You are probably familiar with the painful condition known as kidney stones. When a kidney stone is stuck in the ureter, it is called a ureteral stone. The ureters are tubes leading from the kidneys to the bladder.
The kidneys can form stones when high levels of dissolved minerals and salts are present in the urine. When stones are small they can pass through the ureter and bladder with no symptoms. If a stone is trapped in the ureter, it can block urine flow and cause great discomfort and pain. Fortunately, updated imaging methods, medications and treatments are improving our ability to deal with this common urinary problem.
Symptoms of ureteral stones include:
- Feeling a strong and frequent need to urinate.
- Burning during urination.
- Pain at the tip of the penis.
- Dark or bloody, red urine.
- Sharp pains or cramps in the back, side, abdomen, and groin. The pain will often proceed down the body as the stones move through the ureter.
- Nausea and vomiting.
Causes of ureteral stones include low urine volume, diet, obesity, family history, medications, bowel conditions, and other medical conditions. Diagnosis of ureteral stones can be made using x-ray, ultrasound and CT scans. These tests can help determine the location and size of stones.
Several factors determine how ureteral stones are treated. The patient may choose to wait for the stone to pass if the pain is bearable, the stone is small enough, if there is no sign of infection and if there is adequate urine flow from the kidney. Medication can also be used to help the stone pass. Tamsulosin (brand name Flomax) can be used to relax the ureter.
Surgical procedures to treat ureteral stones include:
Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL), is a technique that breaks up stones into little pieces. Often performed under anesthesia, SWL does not work well on hard or large stones.
Ureteroscopy (URS), is a method using a small scope, retrieval device and stone-breaking tools. A temporary stent can sometimes be placed in the ureter, rather than a drain tube or catheter and external bag.
To learn more about ureteral stones, their diagnosis and treatment, contact the Jefferson Surgical Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia. Our experienced staff can talk with you about ureteral stones, including specific types of stones and preventative measures.