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.


779 Responses to All about ureteral stents

  1. i thought I was weird laying in a hospital bed on morphine after my stent was put in yesterday. Sounds like I am going to be miserable for weeks to come. I have seven kids to care for, one is a new baby. I can’t be passing out when I pee. I will tell you I would rather be in labor. Everyone I move the pain gets worse, even when I sit up it gets worse and I have to go home tomorrow. How the heck am I to take care of my kids. I was told there would be slight discomfort so I thought I was being a big baby. At least I am glad to hear it’s not just me. I am not even as bad off as some of you. I admit it hurt worse than the stone,especially since my stone didn’t hurt at all. It was big enough the had to make incisions even after the laser. I am on two pain pills and morphine and I have to curl in a ball and just cry. Good luck to you all.

  2. jo says:

    It is over and I am relatively pain free. Readers need to know that not everyone is miserable.

    My big stone was 171 mm & I had 9 others. Using ureteroscopy & laser lithotripsy, the doc spent about 2 hours breaking up stones. The first 36 hours were nasty because of cramps, spasms, bleeding and feelings of urgency and burning with urination. After the first 36 ours I sat, reclined or laid to relieve the discomfort. A massaging heating pad became my new BFF.

    I followed advice I found on the internet from a urology clinic in Missouri on how to time and combine meds for the least miserable stent removal possible. My doc had advised I drink sufficient fluid to make my urine clear for 3 days prior to removal. Something did the trick. There were 2 small pinches but no pain.

  3. Ellen says:

    I just had an 8mm stone removed from my left kidney. They placed a stent in for healing purposes and it is extremely uncomfortable! I have NO pain from the kidney, none anywhere except where the stent is sitting at the base of my vaginal opening. The best way to describe it for you ladies is that it feels like a mis-inserted tampon and you cant get comfortable with it. Hopefully he will allow me to remove it sooner rather than later.

  4. mamamia says:

    I had a large stone, apparently VERY hard, for a number of years. My back started hurting – an ache, throbbing. The doc said it’s the stone, did the electrode surgery where they blast it from the outside of your body. Then they put a sting in so that there are no problems with the broken up stone coming out in urine. Unfortunately, the blasting didn’t break it up all the way, so about 3 weeks later, I had to have the laser through the bladder and ureter. That worked. I had the surgery two days ago. The first time i had a stent with the electrode surgery, I was pretty miserable for a week but never took anything for pain. I took a stool softener and the stuff that anesthetizes your bladder (the orange pee stuff). I was never without the stent during the last 3 weeks…they took it out only to do the laser surgery, and put another one back it. Again, I am sort of miserable but the meds I mentioned helped a lot. The absolute best thing that helped me was a heating pad. That thing has become my very best friend!! I get this stent out in 3 days, and I can’t wait. By the way, the doc said they put the stent because the ureter is a muscle and because it squishes together (like the intestines do), if a stone goes through it, it can really cause problems with the sharp points of the stones.

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