How effective is shockwave lithotripsy in treating kidney stones?

Three months after an SWL treatment, 70-80% of well-selected patients will be stone-free (as seen on follow-up X-rays). The success rate seems to be highest for patients whose kidney stones are found in the upper part of the urinary tract (kidneys and upper ureter, the tubes that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder). The 20-30% of patients for whom SWL is unsuccessful may require an endoscopic procedure.

What are some of the complications after shockwave lithotripsy?

  • Mild discomfort or bruising in the back
  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful urination
  • Need for additional procedures to remove stones that are large or do not easily pass through the urinary tract

Patients who have discomfort or bruising after the procedure may be given pain-relieving medication. Drinking lots of water can help.

Sometimes kidney stones come back after the procedure, and the doctor may recommend other forms of treatment. Pain may last for 4 to 8 weeks after the procedure while the stone fragments continue to pass out of the urinary tract.

SWL should not be performed on patients who:

  • Have a current kidney infection or other types of urinary tract infections.
  • Have kidney cancer or whose kidney structure or function is abnormal.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Weigh more than 300 pounds.
  • Have very large kidney stones.
  • Have cystine stones. (Cystine or certain hard types of calcium stones may be more difficult to break up.)
  • Have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
  • Have a bleeding disorder.
  • Take blood-thinning medications such as warfarin or aspirin.
  • Have a cardiac pacemaker or defibrillator. (SWL may damage an implanted device.)
  • Have uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Your doctor will decide whether it will be safe and effective for you to undergo SWL.

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