Shockwave Lithotripsy

What is shockwave lithotripsy?

Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL), commonly known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, is a non-invasive medical procedure that uses high-energy shock waves to break down or reduce kidney stones into smaller pieces. This makes it easier to pass naturally through the urinary tract. 

Shockwave lithotripsy is safe and minimally invasive; this means no incisions are involved. It allows for a faster recovery compared to traditional surgical methods. After the treatment, the smaller stone fragments can pass out of your body through urine over the next few days or weeks.

SWL is typically an outpatient procedure; you can often resume normal activities shortly after the treatment.

shockwave lithotripsy
Shockwave lithotripsy uses high-energy shock waves to break down large kidney stones into smaller pieces.

How does shockwave lithotripsy work?

Shockwave lithotripsy uses high-pressure shock waves to break down large kidney stones.

The steps for shockwave lithotripsy are as follows:

  1. During a SWL, your urologist will use imaging techniques such as ultrasound  or fluoroscopy to locate the kidney stone. This ensures that the shockwaves are directed accurately at the stone.
  2. A specialised machine known as a lithotripter generates focused shockwaves. These shockwaves are high-energy sound waves that travel harmlessly through your skin and soft tissues until they reach the kidney stone. 
  3. Upon reaching the stone, the shockwaves create mechanical stress within the stone, causing it to break apart into smaller pieces.
  4. Following the procedure, you should be able to pass these smaller stone pieces over the course of several days to weeks. It is important to note that this process may still cause some discomfort but is typically manageable.
shockwave lithotripsy
Shockwave lithotripsy is an effective procedure for treating kidney stones.

Benefits of shockwave lithotripsy

  • Non-invasive
  • Minimal pain
  • Less discomfort
  • Short recovery
  • High success rate
  • Reduced scarring
  • Outpatient procedure
  • Lower cost

What conditions can shockwave lithotripsy treat?

Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL) or extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) can be used to treat the following: 

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions stated above, make an appointment with Aare Urocare today for accurate and effective treatment. Helmed by Dr Fiona Wu in Singapore, Aare is a 

urology specialist clinic that offers discreet services and specialised treatments tailored to your kidney stone, bladder and prostate condition.

ureter stones
Stones in the ureter or ureteral stones can also be treated with shockwave lithotripsy.

What results can I expect?

The results you can expect from SWL largely depend on the size and location of your kidney stones and your overall health.

Generally, you can anticipate the following benefits outcomes:

  • Stone fragmentation: SWL is highly effective in breaking kidney stones into smaller, sand-like particles. These smaller fragments can then pass through your urinary tract more easily.
  • Pain relief: SWL can quickly relieve the intense pain often associated with kidney stones. The pressure and discomfort usually decrease significantly as the stones break into smaller pieces.
  • Passing stones: following SWL, you may notice these smaller stone fragments passing naturally through your urine. This process can take days to weeks, and you may experience some discomfort.
  • Complete stone clearance: SWL may eliminate your stones, but this is not guaranteed. Additional treatments or procedures may sometimes be needed to clear all stone remnants.
  • Prevention: SWL can be a preventive measure to reduce the risk of stone recurrence if you have had kidney stones. Lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments may also be recommended.

Maintaining good communication with your urologist throughout the process is crucial to understand your specific case, manage expectations, and determine any necessary follow-up care.

How many treatment sessions are needed?

Generally, the number of treatment sessions required for SWL varies based on your individual factors and the nature of your kidney stones.

Your urologist will help determinehow many sessions you may need based on the following factors:

  • Stone size and complexity: smaller, less complex stones respond well to SWL and typically require only one session for successful fragmentation. However, larger or more complex stones may need multiple sessions of SWL.
  • Stone location: the location of the stones within your kidney also plays a role in the number of sessions you may require. Stones closer to the outer part of your kidney are often easier to target with shockwaves, potentially requiring fewer sessions.
  • Health and tolerance: your overall health and body’s response to the treatment can influence how many sessions you undergo. Others may be more sensitive to the shockwaves and may require additional sessions for complete stone clearance.
  • Follow-up imaging: X-rays or ultrasound may be used to monitor the progress of stone fragmentation. These imaging tests can determine whether more than one session is necessary.

Frequently asked questions

Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL) is generally not a painful procedure. However, depending on your pain threshold, some individuals may experience discomfort or mild pain as shockwaves target kidney stones.

Yes, there are potential risks associated with shockwave lithotripsy (SWL). Pain or discomfort, bruising or bleeding, infection, stone fragments, and kidney damage are some risks your urologist will discuss with you. They will also inform you of precautions you can take to minimise these risks.

Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL) is a common and generally safe procedure for treating kidney stones. However, only some are suitable candidates for SWL, and your eligibility depends on factors such as the size, location, and complexity of your kidney stones and overall health.

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Dr. Fiona Wu 2

Dr Fiona Wu
Consultant Urologist

MBBS (S'pore), MRCS (Edin), MMED (Surg),
MMED (Clinical Investigation),
FRCS (Urol) (RCPSG), FAMS (Urology)

Dr Fiona Wu is an experienced Consultant Urologist and is the Medical Director of Aare Urocare.

Prior to her private practice, Dr Fiona Wu spent 15 years in public service. She was a Consultant in the Department of Urology at National University Hospital (NUH), Alexandra Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. She was also the Programme Director of Surgery-in-Training at NUH and a core faculty member of postgraduate junior doctors. 

Dr Wu’s clinical interests lie in Female Urology, Neuro-urology, Urinary Incontinence, Reconstructive Urology and Voiding Dysfunction. She believes in treating incontinence in a holistic way using minimally invasive methods. She worked closely with the gynaecology and colorectal departments to treat complex pelvic floor conditions and continues to do so in her own practice. 

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