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Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)

What is Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) Treatment?

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) uses shock waves to break up a kidney stone into small pieces. The small pieces can travel more easily through the urinary tract and eventually pass through the body. ESWL is done under anesthesia and usually takes about 45 minutes. There is no incision needed.

Before the Procedure

Because the procedure is done under general anesthesia, you will need to follow specific eating and drinking instructions. Your doctor may order a bowel clean out. This allows the doctor to see exactly where the stone is on the X-ray.

What Happens during ESWL?

The doctor uses X-rays or ultrasound tests to precisely locate the stone. High-energy sound waves pass through the body without injuring it and break the stones into smaller pieces. It is possible that some stones may not break or may break into large pieces that could be hard to pass. The doctor may insert a ureteral stent at the time of treatment to allow larger stone fragments to pass.

After the Procedure

It is important to drink extra fluids after the procedure. This helps the stone fragments pass easier through the urinary tract. It may take a few days to a week for the stone fragments to pass. You may experience mild pain. Avoiding constipation is important.


  • Stone fragments may become lodged as they pass
  • Bleeding

When to Call the Doctor

  • Fever 101.5° or higher
  • Severe nausea / vomiting
  • Extreme back pain not relieved by pain medications
  • Having trouble or being unable to pee
  • Heavy bleeding or blood clots

Last Updated 08/2023

Reviewed By Renee Niehaus, RN
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