What are kidney stones?
(renal calculi or nephrolithiasis) are pieces of minerals that form in the
kidneys. They form when the normal balance of water, salts, minerals, and other
substances found in your urine changes. How this balance changes determines the
type of kidney stones you get. Most kidney stones are
calcium-type-they form when the
calcium levels in your urine change.
Kidney stones may remain in the kidney or travel out of the body through
the urinary tract -the tubes that connect the kidney to the
bladder (ureters) and lead outside the body (urethra). When traveling through the urinary tract, a
stone may cause no pain or cause great pain and other symptoms. Kidney stones
can cause long-term damage to the urinary tract if they continue to grow in
size or if they block the flow of urine from the kidneys.
What is ESWL?
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) uses shock waves to break the kidney stone into small
pieces that can pass from the body more easily than one large stone. Stone
fragments usually pass within a few weeks. Depending on the size of the stone,
you may need only one treatment. The larger the stone, the more likely it is
that you will need more than one treatment.
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ESWL is only one method used to
break up kidney stones, but it is the most commonly used method because it does
not require surgery. Other options include
percutaneous nephrolithotomy or nephrolithotripsy,
What are the risks of ESWL?
ESWL has few
complications. Complications may include:
- Pain caused by the passage of stone
fragments. This is the most common side effect.
- Blocked urine flow
as a result of stone fragments becoming stuck in the urinary tract. The
fragments may then need to be removed with a ureteroscope.
- Bleeding around the outside of the kidney.
What are the risks of not using ESWL to treat kidney stones?
Unless the kidney stone is blocking urine flow or you
urinary tract infection, the risks of not using ESWL
or another method to break up the stone are small.
If you need more information, see the topic