All about ureteral stents

Photo of a ureteral stent

Photo of a ureteral stent

What is a stent?

Ureteral stents are soft, hollow, plastic tubes placed temporarily into the ureter to allow drainage around a stone or or to speed healing after a stone surgery.

When are they needed?

Stents are used for various reasons in patients with kidney stones. They may be placed in patients to help reduce pain from a stone, when infection is present to allow drainage, or when a stone is preventing a kidney from working adequately. Stents are also commonly placed after surgeries for stones, as in ureteroscopy, to allow healing and prevent swelling of the ureter.

Diagram of ureteral stent

Stent in normal position

How is a stent placed?

Stents are placed during surgery by sliding them over a soft “guidewire” which is placed up the ureter, which is the tube draining the kidney. See a video below of a stent being placed.

How is a stent removed?

Stents can be removed in two different ways. Sometimes, a string is left attached to the end of the stent. This string is allowed to come out of the patient’s urethra, the tube where he or she urinates. The string can be used to pull on the stent and remove it. In cases where a string is not left attached, a small camera called a cystoscope is inserted into the patient’s urethra after numbing medication has usually been administered. The cystoscope is then advanced into the bladder and the stent is grasped with an instrument and removed. See our post on stent removal for a video and more details.

How long can a stent stay in?

In general, most stents should only remain in for no longer than 3 or so months. If a stent is left in too long, it can form stones directly on it, making removal difficult.

What are the symptoms of having a stent?

While some patients with stents have minimal discomfort related to them, other patients will report symptoms that can range from being annoying to being severe enough that the stent has to be removed. These symptoms can include:

  • Sensation of needing to urinate
  • Seeing blood in the urine
  • Bladder spasms
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Pain in the back during urination or when moving
  • Pain in the bladder

Is there anything that can help reduce the discomfort of a stent?

Different medications may be given to help reduce the discomfort of a stent. The most effective appears to be those from the alpha blocker class of medications including tamsulosin (Flomax) and Alfuzosin (Uroxatral). Other types of medications commonly given for stent discomfort, such as oxybutynin (Ditropan) or phenazopyridine (Pyridium), do not appear to be successful at reducing stent related discomfort in placebo controlled studies.  Traditional pain medications are also less successful at reducing stent discomfort.

Hasn’t anyone come up with a better stent?

Research into improving stent designs will hopefully reduce the discomfort associated with them. Innovative stent designs currently being tested include stents embedded with medications to reduce discomfort and stents that dissolve by themselves.

543 Responses to All about ureteral stents

  1. Jo says:

    A few weeks ago, I ended up in hospital with awful flank pain, that turned out to be kidney stones. I have three 8mm stones that cannot be passed without surgery/blasting, so they inserted a stent to relieve the swelling for the time being. However, I am pregnant, and they can’t do anything about the stones until I give birth (which could be 1-4 weeks from now).

    Unfortunately, I am struggling a bit here wondering when I should go back to the hospital, because my pain has gotten worse. I know the stent wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, and I was told upfront it would be uncomfortable, but the symptoms mimicking a UTI (was tested just yesterday for one, came back negative) are awful. The constant urge to pee, the pain while urinating, the burning and stinging right at my urethra, I can’t deal with this for another few weeks. I feel like I can’t even leave the house, I stand up and have to pee, I finish peeing and walk out of the bathroom and my urethra is burning and I go sit back on the toilet.

    Is this normal? I don’t want to waste my time going back to emerg (I say that because my Urologist isn’t able to take me in for 2 weeks, so this way he would see me at least in emerg at the local hospital) if they end up telling me it’s all normal and I just have to live with it. But my fear is maybe it’s dislodged somehow, or something is wrong with the stent, but it’s been in 3 weeks now and the past week pain as gotten a lot worse than it ever was.

    The baby also kicks and presses up against my bladder/ureter, and the pain is excruciating when he does this, so perhaps he has dislodged the stent somehow?

    If anyone can tell me if this is normal or not to be so incredibly uncomfortable 24/7, that would be great!

  2. Mary says:

    I have had a kidney stent for 1 month now, and it is so uncomfortable, both sitting and standing. I feel like my insides are falling out. Urination is horrible, stinging, burning. Can’t get comfortable. Can’t walk very far without pain. Constant urge to urinate. Blood in urine. Supposed to get it out on Sept 26, 8 more days to go. If I could pull it out myself, I would. I really need relief. Any comments on what to do? I can’t take anything with aspirin as I need another surgery on the 26th. I feel like I am going crazy!

  3. GA says:

    My dad suffers from kidney stones. He is hospitalized right now. Lithotripsy will be done sometime this week. A stent is being placed in before then. What does the stent do?

    Thanks in advance for your response.

  4. Lynnette D says:

    I had a stent placed after I had surgery to remove a kidney stone I couldn’t pass. (14 yrs ago I had surgery to remove kidney stones that were too large for me to pass & a stent placed, everything went fine back then). This time around it was horrible. After surgery to remove the stones & a stent placed I was released from the hospital 2 days later (I was told I had scar tissue that made passing stones nearly impossible. I hadn’t known once you’ve had stones you’re more likely to get them). Anyway, when I got home the pain was terrible (I had my 1st daughter natural & this pain was worse). Even with the pain meds, I couldn’t get comfy, the feeling of needing to urinate was constantly there & when I managed to, only a little bit would come out & the pain had me gasping. I started feeling worse, the pain got to be too much & started running a low fever. I was taken back to the hospital where the urologist immediately had the stent removed. For some reason my body didn’t “cope w/a foreign object in my body.” They ended up having tO do a nephrostomy tube placement (a tube is inserted into your kidney & ran to the outside of my back to a collecting bag to drain urine from my kidney), I spent 5 days in the hospital for this. The tube was removed on the 5th day & now 6 days from being discharged I feel great. The few days after being discharged, I got winded easily & urinating was a TINY bit uncomfortable.
    All I can say is that my urologist said it was a good thing I came in when I did. My right kidney should heal well. I’m so sorry for all the pain several of you have gone through or currently going through. IF you have a stent placement, the pain gets worse or you get flu like symptoms, PLEASE go straight to the ER. I truly hope those that have left comments & who are dealing w/kidney stones, I hope you have a safe & speedy recovery.

  5. Karen carlisle says:

    I have Two stents in one urter .they was replacing them that one had stones so He waited to do in two weeks In offce but missed apt.have to wait another week .will I be ok? Will I get sick?

  6. Karen carlisle says:

    I have two stints in one cause during surgery had stones .he said would take out in week but its been more then two weeks will I get sick or will I be ok?

  7. Peter says:

    I required a stent recently because of a small narrow section in my ureter. The surgery to remove the narrow section was the day after the insertion, but the day OF the insertion was really awful. I was very very sick, throwing up my pills and having to retake them, unable to urinate or make bowel movements, and stuck with terrible pain. Luckily, after the surgery, life with the stent was generally okay except for the inability to walk longer than a few minutes without uncomfortable tingling in the penis, and the same tingling when finishing urinating.

    I wanted to ask though, how does everybody else feel about the insertion and removal of the stent? It seems for many people it’s overshadowed by the pain of having the stent and they don’t even mention it. But by far the worst part of the process for me was having that camera-tube inserted and pushed through my bladder. The doctors all said that I would feel “a little discomfort” when that happened. A little discomfort, my ass. It is the single most painful thing I have ever experienced, and I cannot BELIEVE they only give you local anesthetic for it. Which, by the way, hardly seemed to help, but I don’t want to imagine what it would feel like if it WAS working and I’m just ignorant of what it would feel like otherwise…Even the following surgery was hardly anything compared to it, because of course, I was asleep the whole time! The four scars on my belly never gave me even a fraction of a fraction of the pain of stent insertion/removal. If I ever have to have it done again, I’m going to insist being put under. Does anyone else hate this procedure as much as I’ve come to despise it?

    • Susan Domagal says:

      Hi Peter,
      I was under anesthetic for the insertion of the stent, so I can’t comment there. My stent had a string attached and the removal was truly no problem. The doctor asked me to cough three times, and by the third cough, it was out! There was no pulling or tearing, it seemed to slip out easily as she pulled the string. I felt some immediate relief from the constant pressure of the stent, but still had residual back pain.
      HOWEVER, your’s is the first comment I have read to mention CONSTIPATION. I was struggling with constipation from the day one of the surgery to remove the kidney stones and insert the stent. I took some mild laxatives from about day 3 through day 7, post-surgery, with no relief. On day 7, about 12 hours after my stent was removed, I was able to move my bowels three times in about an hour with some straining. After that, I had about 3 hours of pain that was more intense than any that had preceded. In retrospect, perhaps the straining triggered spasms. If so, they were intense.
      Thank God I had prescription Norco. I took one, which seemed to have no effect. After 45 minutes I took another as well as 3 Ibuprofen. Relief started to take place about 2 hours later, and I finally was able to fall asleep. Today, it’s 24 hours past stent removal and I feel good. I think everyone should be prepared for the CONSTIPATION that may accompany a procedure and add to the pain factor. Good luck to you. Susan D.

    • Shaun says:

      I just removed my stent a few hours ago after having had surgery to remove a large stone in my left kidney last Thursday. I was fortunate as my surgeon put me completely under for the procedure. The string hanging out of my penis for 5 days was probably the most annoying thing I have ever had to deal with. My pain meds that I took just prior to pulling it out have worn off and my left kidney hurts a great deal. Waiting for a new round of meds to kick in. If the pain stays this severe through the remaining 4 hours of my shift, I will likely be going to the ER (VA hospital ER functions as a walk-in clinic here).

      Removing the stent itself did not hurt. It was just a very unique sensation that I don’t ever want to repeat. Doing it myself left me with a feeling of severe accomplishment. Everyone that I knew that was aware of the stent having to come out said they’d never do it themselves.

    • Barbara-Anne says:

      Hi Peter,

      I was put under general anesthesia for the insertion of my stent (Thank God!!) It was put in on Wed 09/11/14 and I still have it and the pain is UNBEARABLE!!!! I can’t eat, the nausea is awful and just the smell of food makes me gag. I have been on clear liquids since the day after my admission for my kidney stone on 09/09/14 and you are correct I spend more time retaking meds because of vomiting then I would like.

      I seem to have this awful feeling of “fullness” in my belly and chest and I cannot have a BM to save my life! The last one was just before being discharged. I have tried everything from MOM, to softeners, so I don’t know if it it a common thing or not but it sucks and I get so winded just from walking from one end of the house to the other. I baffels me how this is all supposed to be “normal”

      I’m supposed to have lipthotripsy some time in the next few days or possibly next week but I don’t know how much longer I can take being this uncomfortable. I can’t sleep, eat, poop and the meds they give you doesn’t even begin to make a dent in the pain. So, you are definitaly not alone in how you were feeling because I’m going thru it right now :( ….

      I hope it all just goes away when they finally put me back out and pull this damn thing out!!!!

  8. Tom Thomas says:

    What’s the length of a stent?

  9. Donna Clegg says:

    Is it normal to be in constant agony in my back and front? I am struggling to cope with the pain of the stent

    • Shaun says:

      I suppose that depends on your pain level (1-10 with 10 being the most amount of pain you’ve ever endured). Mine hurt but not so much that I was in agony. Granted, I was pretty well medicated between having had surgery and my normal pain medication regimen.

      I would consult with your Urologist.

  10. Sherry says:

    Kate, I understand. It’s not easy.
    I have bi-lateral disease and when a child I passed stones but no one knew it and the doctor told my parents I had the flu. I had to pass stones and deal with the pain with no pain meds. :(

    I am an adult now and I currently have one of my bazillion stones stuck in my right ureter it is 1.8 cm in length and .8 cm in height. Pretty big stone– size of a dime. I am currently waiting for a surgeon since it was the holiday weekend.

    I have had stents with no pain and stents with horrific backlash pain after urinating. I am not looking forward to the stent. Sometimes they remove the stone and other times they break it up first and then remove it depending on the size of it.

    I hope you feel better!

    • Shaun says:

      Sherry,

      I am sorry that you’re in so much pain. I’ve just recently had a very similar size stone removed from my left kidney last Thursday. They went in via my Urethra with a laser to break the stone up, used another tool that my Urologist described as a net to remove the pieces and the other stones in that kidney, and then put a stent in.

      I am feeling more pain now that the stent is out (removed it myself about 6 hours ago) than I did with one.

  11. neha says:

    hii.. my mom got 2 ureter calculi of size 0.7cm on right side and 2 ureter calculi of size 0.9 cm on left side.. she underwent a procedure 5 days back on her right side and stents were placed in both right and left ureters.. is it possible to place a stent in the left ureter without removing the calculi in it ?????

  12. Jeri Cox says:

    I have a blockage in my right ureter that the radiologist says is not a stone. But possibly a urothelial lesion and I am scheduled for a cystogram with retrograde and my Dr. Is gonna biopsy the lesion and place a stent. Now after reading these stories I’m fearful. :(. Dr. Says maybe couple days of work. I hope I dont have any problems..

    • Susan Domagal says:

      Dear Jeri,

      Try not to obsess over having the stent. Everybody tolerates them differently. Be sure you get clear instructions from your doc after your procedure as to how to manage pain and what to be aware of. Plan on taking a few days off of work or school. No lifting or heavy activity. Some people are off work until the stent is removed. I went back to work yesterday, with stent in. I have a desk job so it wasn’t bad with Ibuprofen. Today I had stent removed. Some instant relief, but was told I will have spasms for about 24 hours, then it will be all good.

      The stent caused me discomfort. Peeing was uncomfortable because of spasms. I was supposed to receive prescription pain meds before I left the hospital, but did not. So, I took 3 Ibuprofen every 4 hours. This helped tremendously to keep the pain at bay. Ask for help, keep your mind occupied, and take pain meds. You will get through it. Susan D.

  13. Kate says:

    This is the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. Have called an ambulance 2x to take me to the ER for “pain management”. I pray to God that once this is over it never happens again. I have taken alot of unpaid time off of work because of this so it is costing me money and I have financial obligations. That’s why I work! Not cool.

    • Kate says:

      I left out that I current have a stent in my ureter which was put in this past Thursday. I had a sonic thing supposedly breaking up the stone a month ago but a month later still having problems so went under anesthesia again for the stent to be put in a supposed “removal” of the stone. The thing is I heard the urologist after I came out of surgery saying she used a laser on it vs. manually removing it which was what I thought I was going under for. When I talked to her husband who is also a urologist he said “She removed the stone”. So I am not sure who is telling the truth. I just urinated and saw alot of blood. Did some online research and intermittent bleeding is not uncommon with a stent. I go back this Wednesday to have the stent removed and would like some answers re: “She removed the stone” vs. overhearing her tell someone she used a laser on it.

      • Ashley says:

        Kate,

        I underwent laser lithotripsy yesterday for them to break up the stones in my kidney. I woke up and they told me they had removed them altogether. My guess is that it was an audible once they got in there to do the procedure. I would call your doctor and ask them specifically if they user the laser or took them out.

        I also had a stent put in on my left side, and it is excruciating. When I was in recovery yesterday they asked my pain level and I said 10/10 and it was almost as if they didn’t believer. It feels like I’m passing a stone that won’t go away. It’s debilitating and I was told I could go back to work the day after surgery but all that helps is pain meds that make me unable to drive.

        Hang in there and it will get better. The good news if they did remove your stone is that it can get analyzed to see what in your diet is creating them so you can avoid that in the future.

      • sue says:

        Hi Kate,
        Had a stent put in 27th July removal surgery 27th Aug was cancelled due to lack of beds. Rebooked for THIS FRIDAY! 12th Sept. I have found that the more pain I’m in the more likely there will be blood in urine. So Yes I’ve had blood in urine most of the time. I’ve also had a bladder infection. Thank god for Curerash cream the pee burns ! Warm baths with 1/4 cup of salt I’ve found gives me some relief I’ve been having a couple a day. My best tip is to use baby wipes every time you pee Johnson & Johnson gentle on skin the coldness of the wipes is a bonus ( or should I say relief) I’ve also been using the wipes to apply the curerash cream makes it easier to rub the cream in. I’m also taking a medication for bladder spasms they have helped greatly. Good luck to you Sue
        I’d like to know as well how long is a kidney stent mine feels like a metre long ha ha

        • Tony says:

          Hi I’ve had a stent in from 13th August, I’m not due to have it out till 9th October. I’ve had an infection so had meds, I’ve been in constant pain since I came out of hospital for laser break up of right hand stone. When I go back in I’m having a left hand stone done same way. All I can say is I’ve never had this much pain before and I’m really not looking forward to the left one done. I can’t see me being right till Christmas. It’s a shame that in the 20th century there isn’t a better way of dealing with these stones and also a shame that what ever pain relief we take it doesn’t help.

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