What are the Pros and Cons of Lithotripsy for Kidney Stones?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Lithotripsy is a type of medical procedure that uses shock waves to help break up large kidney stones into smaller fragments that can then pass on their own. This type of procedure is not the ideal treatment for everyone, and there are definite pros and cons concerning lithotripsy for kidney stones. Some benefits of this type of procedure include pain relief, being able to avoid a more invasive surgical procedure, and reducing the chances of developing a urinary blockage or damage to the kidney. Some potential cons of lithotripsy for kidney stones include potential complications such as kidney infections or kidney damage due to the procedure.

Lithotripsy for kidney stones is usually considered for larger stones, as smaller stones will usually pass on their own without any type of medical intervention. Large stones can cause increased pain, and this pain can sometimes be completely incapacitating. Larger stones also have a higher risk of becoming lodged in the tubes, called ureters, that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. When this happens, kidney damage is likely to occur. Lithotripsy for kidney stones may be a good option for those with large kidney stones, especially if the stones are causing any kind of urinary blockage.


Other pros when considering lithotripsy for kidney stones that do not pass on their own include being able to avoid a more invasive surgery and reduce the amount of pain. If the stones cannot pass on their own or a blockage is present, the only other option is usually an open surgery, which may require several days in the hospital and a lengthy recovery time. Lithotripsy rarely takes more than an hour, and recovery is generally relatively quick. Once large stones have been broken into smaller pieces, pain relief may be immediate, at least to some degree.

Complications from lithotripsy for kidney stones are possible and should be noted. Some of the fragments may get lodged in one of the ureters, causing a urinary blockage. Bleeding and damage to the kidney may occur as a result of this procedure as well. Another potential con to choosing lithotripsy for kidney stones is that one treatment is often not enough. Patients who have a kidney disease or other medical condition that causes cysts to develop in the kidneys are not candidates for this procedure, as the cysts could rupture, potentially causing an emergency medical situation and permanent damage to the kidney.


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