Kidney Stone Treatment

ESWL: Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy®

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is the most common treatment for kidney stones in the United States. Shock waves from outside the body are targeted at a kidney stone causing the stone to fragment. The stones are broken into tiny pieces that can then pass safely on their own. This procedure is non-invasive and usually done under mild sedation rather than general anesthesia.

These are what the words mean:

  • extracorporeal: from outside the body
  • shock waves: pressure waves
  • lithotripsy (the Greek roots of this word are "litho" meaning stone, "tripsy" meaning crushed)


This involves the passage of a small instrument through the urinary tract and up to stone in the kidney or ureter. This is one of the most common way that stones are treated and does carry a very high success rate. Compared to ESWL, this often requires the placement of a stent in the ureter to allow for healing, which can be associated with increased discomfort. This is usually does as an outpatient procedure and does require general anesthesia.

PCNL (Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy)

This is the preferred treatment for larger stones and is done through a small, keyhole opening in the flank. This allows the surgeon to pass a special instrument directly into the kidney to remove the stone(s). Larger stones may need to be broken up using a special instrument called an ultrasonic lithotriptor Cyberwand®.

The stone can then be extracted through the same incision. Although this approach typically requires a hospital stay and is more invasive than ureteroscopy or ESWL, it is often the most effective method for treating large stones quickly and completely.


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