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Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) is used in the treatment of kidney stones. The therapy utilizes shock waves from outside of the body to target a large kidney stone and cause it to fragment into tiny, passable pieces. It is a nonsurgical therapy that helps patients pass painful or impassable  kidney stones. 

Whether SWL can be utilized depends on the size of the stone, its shape, location and overall kidney health. Stones that are 2cm or smaller are the best types of stones for SWL therapy to be effective. SWL is not an effective or safe treatment for pregnant women, obese individuals or patients with kidney abnormalities. 

What to Expect: 

The patient will lay on their side on an operating table with a soft, water-filled cushion placed on their abdomen or behind their kidney. Their body is positioned so that the shock wave device can precisely target the kidney stone. It typically takes about 1-2 thousand shock waves to crush the stones and break them up effectively. 

Because SWL is a relatively painful treatment process, the patient may be under light sedation or use general anesthetics.

The treatment process takes about 45-60 minutes for completion. After treatment, the patient will be asked to stay for an additional hour to monitor their status. Once at home, the patient will be asked to urinate through a strainer to collect the stones for testing. 

Some patients may need to take antibiotics or painkillers following SWL. The patient can expect to resume their daily activities after one or two days.

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