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.

361 Responses to All about ureteral stents

  1. Christine Donofrio says:

    thanks , I needed to read these. I have a large stone in right Kidney and they couldn’t remove it 2 weeks ago because I had E coli infection . now it’s two weeks later and this stent is driving me up the wall. Constant pressure and spasms , so far all I’m told to do is heat and tylenol. It is not cutting it. Not getting much help from Urologist or PCP. do they seriously think I’m not having severe discomfort. At my wits end. Thanks for not making me feel like I’m nuts .

  2. David says:

    Hi all, just thought I would share my recent experiences with the kidney stone removal. I wish I had reviewed this page prior to the process and I would have understood better what my body was doing to me. Anyways, I went in on earlier this month to have 2 stones removed from the left kidney (one was 4mm and the other was 6mm).

    As I lay in the O/R prep room, all these RNs come and ask me my information and verify it on my armband. Then, the doctor is the final questioning authority and once I verified my name, SSN, DOB, and what I was having done to me, he affixed another arm band. I was in pain from an attack because you can’t have any food nor drink after midnight the day of your surgery. I highly recommend that you get as many fluids in as possible before midnight. I told the doctor I was in pain and he had them administer the pain medicine. He then tells me, there is a 1 in 10 chance that we won’t be able to laser the stones today; of course I said “oh no – not me – I’ll be the other 9 that they can get it layered the first time.” I was wrong :) Once in the O/R, I was asleep in a matter of seconds and when I awoke – I had that burning urge to pee. I wish they would have administered me pain medicine after waking up but for some reason they don’t want to do that.

    I went home (kidney stones still in me and a nice new Stent) and of course like everyone else – same issues – various colors of blood, pain, agony, kidney pain, urge, etc. I first pee’d standing up and that additional strain seemed to cause me more pain – as my bladder would get emptier, my kidney felt like a water balloon getting squeezed and remain constant for a few minutes after. I decided to sit down and pee and that seemed to work better with a little less pain because i was able to apply less abdominal strain to pee than when standing up. Also, if you don’t need to eat a lot of food the night before, I would recommend that you don’t because you won’t be able to do #2 for a few days. That’s just a preventive measure from having additional back pain.

    So, I have had the stent in for a few weeks and grew accustom to the squeezing pain during the urination. The blood did go away but I had to be careful on doing any excruciating activities as the stent would get irritated easily or at the wrong bend of the body. My doctor prescribed me kidney stone spasm medication, infection prevention medication, stool softener medication, and oxycodone. To help prevent infection, I recommend getting adult diapers (recommended to me) because after you urinate with blood, that just sits in your underwear and that can’t be good because you are now more open in that area than ever in your life. I also keep a heating pad on my kidney and it works wonderfully to ease the pain.

    On Monday, I went in for the second attempt, and they were able to laser the stones this time and took the stent out of the kidney but did put another stent in the penis with a string attached and wrapped around while being secured by tape. Again, after surgery, I got out, wanted to pee so bad but was able to deal a bit easier because I’d just been through the process. So of course, like everyone else, instinct comes in to go pee because your mind says to go pee; I decided that after I tried, with no success, that only time was going to alleviate the pain. Mentally, I change my thinking in the hospital and I said “you know what – forget it – I’ll just pee my pants (because I knew I wasn’t going to produce anything) – and just giving up that mental strength and saying forget it – it actually brought me relief because I no longer felt like I was “holding it” until the bathroom. I had the same symptoms as the first surgery except this time – the lasered stones started to come out; piece by piece and grain by grain. I sat down to pee and one of the big chunks was right there for me to get (I don’t know if my doctor took any stones after surgery; matter of fact – I didn’t even see him after I awoke).

    I took a week off of work the last time and am taking a week off this time. I hope you can to or maybe your work can allow you to telecommute if you don’t have sick leave.

    In closing, I’d recommend the following: adult diapers, doctor prescribed (kidney spasm meds, pain meds, infection prevention meds, stool softener meds), strainer to catch the stones, willingness to allow your mind to say it’s ok to “pee” yourself after surgery (you won’t because they drain your bladder before they wake you up), a heating pad, and a week off.

    If I can help answer any questions, I will reply.

    Until Next Time – PEE ROCKS!!!! (If you do, you’ll know why I’m happy to say that)

  3. miguel says:

    this is the 3rd time with stones..on the 11th the doctor took a 6mm stone from the lowest part of the ureter and place a stent in my right.. also place a second stent on my left to help the removal of small stones in that area..(all of this is with full anestesia..i did not feel anything.. the pain come after…as soon you want to pass urine…)
    after spend a night at the hospital i was sent home , and a schedul will be organize to removal of both in about 2 weeks..the next night,at home i try to piss.. it was impossible, i try for few hrs, until i could not contain the pain any more, i went to the hospital and a tube was placed in my penis.to brake the blockage .. what a pain.but . what a relive…from there on i was keep under observation..the tube was removed i am at home with codeine.. for few days , i schedule the removal of the sten for the 29th my advice..if you are not able to wee..do not try to “see what happens”.. go to hospital and allow then to brake the blockage..its awfull.. but its better than the pain..

  4. Dino says:

    Woohoo, my stent is out! It was removed on Friday. I imagined that the pulling of the string to remove the stent would be pretty painful; I was wrong. I did take a Percocet prior to having it removed, and I was sure glad I did. The stent removal itself was pretty painless, it felt a little strange, but it didn’t hurt at all…on the other hand, the spasms that I encountered about an hour later was horrible. It came close to rivaling the stent pain that I previously had. The spasms lasted about a half an hour or so, and I felt like I had to pee the entire time. I was told to stay very hydrated, so I did. With that advice, I am glad that I was near the bathroom, or I would have wet my trousers. Several hours later, I had another bout of spasms, these didn’t last as long as the first, but they rivaled on the pain scale. I did have a few spasms for the past few days with a slight bleeding which was probably caused by the trauma of my stone/stent removal. I now feel like a new man. My urologist had prescribed some Flomax which was supposed to help with the spasms, I will take that for another week until I am confident that I’m not having any more. I wish the world of luck to anyone that is suffering with these urinary afflictions.

  5. Les says:

    Had first kidney stone discovered 6 weeks ago, small symptoms pain in kidney cramp in bladder and blood in pee. After ct scan 10mm stone discovered. Had laser treatment to smash it up and stent fitted. Jesus!! First 3 pees after op nearly passed out with pain. Morf required to stop pain. Continued to have real bad pain when peeing for 7 days. Slowly the pain got less, but having stent in was very uncomfortable. Felt really tired and like crap the whole time, also getting up 6-7 times at night to pee. I know it’s a pain but I drunk 4 litres af water a day, and Golden rule, don’t wait until you need to go, that’s ehen it hurts. Stent taken out 4 days ago. First 48 hours were fine, then real pain again, just like after the op, blood clots and sediment came out, instant relief. They did say sediment would come out, but did not say it would be that painfull. Two days later more pain, not as bad but enough for codeine. Little more sediment. Hopefully that is it. Drinking min 2.5 litres of water a day now to keep system flushed. Dehydration is the biggest cause, never let it happen, that was my mistake. If you are thirsty you are 1 litre of water missing. If you sweat your are 2 litres short. Keep hydrated. I will drink 3-4 lites of water a day now, as don’t want that pain ever again. Problem I’d constantly bloated, and feel like a whale, still better than that pain. Good luck all

  6. chetyl says:

    I had an 11mm kidney stone blasted and a stent put in. At first the pain was horrific then it got better for a couple days. No kidney pain or bladder pain. Now 9 days out the kidney pain is excurciating and I have blood in my urine again! Should I be worried? Should I call the dr?

  7. Angie says:

    My husband had stents put in on Monday April 7, 2014. He is having pain when he urinates and it’s really severe if he waits over an hour to urinate again. He took off work Monday and yesterday. He got up this morning got dressed, ate breakfast and was ready to walk out the door and said he couldn’t do it. I’ve been trying to tell him he doesn’t need to work. How long were any of you off work after stents were put in? He is going to have them in for 6 months while he goes through chemotherapy. I’m hoping and praying that he doesn’t have this pain the whole 6 months. Right now he says he feels like he has to urinate right after he gets off the pot besides the pain. I’ve had bladder infections and my doctor prescribed me pills that turned my urine orange and they gave me so much relief. Do you think they would help him? Thank you

    • Dino says:

      Check with his Doctor, the Pyridium that you are talking about does help urinary pain (usually more effective for urinary infections) but can cause hepatotoxicity and renal failure if used for a prolonged period (six months is a long time). You don’t want to mess with his liver and kidney function too much while he is going through chemotherapy, his doctor should be able to better advise you.

  8. Dino says:

    Ok, on Wednesday my stone was captured and removed…I still have a stent in place, but was told that I would have it removed next week. I still have pain, but not near as much as I had with the stone and stent. Apparently the stent dilated my ureter enough for the stone extraction without having to have it busted up so I am somewhat blessed. I can’t wait for the stent removal, despite the fact that I have heard that it can be quite painful in itself. I now have a string coming out of my penis (and taped to it to prevent it from getting drawn in)…I guess it’s as close as a guy gets to having a tampon. LOL…but seriously, I have this fear of accidentally pulling this string and causing undue pain. I am told that if that should happen, no biggie…but I would rather have it done right, than by accident. I was given some Percocet and told to take it about half an hour before the stent removal to help ease the discomfort (which I suspect is code for PAIN) of the removal. I will post on that procedure next week when it happens. ciao for now.

    • Chris says:

      So nice to read I’m not alone. This is my fourth time with kidney stones but first time with a stent. My stones are 1cm in diameter. I had emergency surgery Wednesday. They found I had a big infection inside. I have to have the stent in for six weeks, then they are going to blast them. I too have different colours of red come out in my urine. The pain is terrible and I dread drinking water. Even though I know it’s the best thing for me. Also does any one else’s body feels likes it’s been run over by a Mack truck? Thanks for listening.

      • John says:

        Yes, on the Mack Truck. Had my 6cm stone removed on Monday and woke up with a stent in. I’ve got back pain after peeing and a weird cramping sensation when I pee (probably from the stent).
        Good luck on your recovery.

  9. deb says:

    I have had my stint in since October they told me to call in two weeks to get the lazer to shatter my 7mm stone i still have the stone and stinc cause i was told they won’t touch me until i have ins. i still have a stabbing pain and was told to take motrin for the pain its not working any suggestions

    • Dino says:

      Check with your doc, I think that your stent needs to be replaced soon…6 months is a long time for you to have it. While you are in there, tell them about your stabbing pain, he may be able to prescribe something for you.

    • Chris says:

      My doctor told me six weeks max! Get it pulled.

  10. danny says:

    I had a stent put in almost 2 weeks ago , now iam suffering from a bladder infection. nothing like a 6mm stone atop a bladder infection. god the pain

    • Joy says:

      Danny,
      I’m sorry you also have an infection on top of the stent pain. Hopefully, the antibiotics will help you feel better soon.

  11. becky says:

    I had bilateral stents put in on Tuesday 1st April 2014… I am now on day 3 of horrendous pain! It feels like severe perios pain accompanied by horrendous cystitis! Wehn I urinate I feel like im being stabbed in both kidneys. I have literally tried everything in my medicine cupboard from simple paracetamol to ibuprofen to codine and finally, tramadol… nothing is taking it away! Any tips would be greatly appreciated, I can’t go on for another couple of weeks like this :’(

    • Joy says:

      Becky, I feel for you! I know exactly what you’re talking about. There is an over the counter urinary pain relief medicine (phenazopyridine hydrochloride) I bought at Walgreens. Generic and costs $8 maybe. It will make your urine orange and that is expected. It helps but doesn’t make it go away completely. Maybe it will work for you. You should definitely call your doctor and let him/her know that you cannot bear the pain and to prescribe something stronger for you since ibuprofen, codeine, and tramadol do not work. Drink lots of water to dilute your urine too. I was scared to drink because I hated bracing for the burning with urination, but I think that keeping the urine diluted may help some people with the pain.

  12. cathy says:

    Please see my comment under stent removal about my husbands treatment with stent and herbal compound as stone remedy. The compound is available at many health food stores or on Amazon for about $10 to $14 dollars per oz. which lasts 10 to 14 days. We’ll keep you posted on his results.

  13. angel says:

    Hello,
    Thank you for this website. I’ve been suffering with kidney stones since 1986, and they are sooooooooooo painful. On March 27, 2014, I had yet another stent put in. You would think I was used to them by now because I had so many. Not! Never!
    What pain!!!! I’m sure all of my tears could have been collected in a jar and sold for a price.) It hurts before, during, and after urinating. I am not one to take pain meds, because I hate how they make me feel, but in this case, I had no choice but to take them to relieve this excruciating pain.
    On April 04, 2104, my surgery is scheduled. I am hoping that when he shocks the smaller ones and remove that golf ball, he will remove the stent as well. Back in the 80′s, when the stent was in place, when it was time to remove it, I had to be placed in the hospital again and have surgery for them to remove it. Now, the stent is removed in his office by numbing the area.
    I pray that they come up with a different way to prevent blockage. Hopefully, they can come up with a stent that can dissolve on its own, and can be less painful!
    I will be 48 years old in a few weeks, and it would be awesome to have some years free of kidney stones and stents. I truly believe in my Healer!

  14. Paula says:

    I had a stone procedure March 17 and was told I had to have the stent for two weeks. Because of my schedule I was not going to be able to get it out until 16 days after the surgery. I called my Dr.’s office today and finally got a call back that I can go in tomorrow afternoon to have it removed. It will be 11 days, but I don’t care. I almost cried from joy that I would be getting it out tomorrow and not waiting 6 more days! I had stents twice about 20 + years ago with the string that I pulled myself. It was not hard to remove. But, not with this doctor. I have had near constant pain and it is horrible before and during urination in my kidney and bladder. This website was very helpful. I wish I had looked for it sooner, but I had really figured out what was happening, but it’s good to know that I am not alone. I have to have two more procedures in the next 3 months. I dread the stents the most. But, my ureters have been through so much during my lifetime that I don’t want to take a chance on them not healing well with passing all those fragments. God bless all of you that are going through this, too. The ladies will understand this, but all these days have felt like I had a tampon stuck half in and half out. Only ladies will understand what kind of pain and discomfort that is! LOL! I couldn’t take pain meds because I have to work and do life. Thanks for letting me whine. I know that so many others are dealing with much worse. . .

  15. j.c says:

    i’m so glad i found this webpage , i had the shockwave procedure three weeks ago , which did not work , then yesterday he went in to my right kidney with the lazer , and left the stent in , i knew i would be uncomfortable but going to the bathroom it’s excruciating pain , even before i make it to the bathroom to release i’m in so much pain , i’m hoping this will get better with time cause i got about two weeks to go with this in , anybody have issues ith going for a bowl movement , cause i’m a little scared to push for that , so i have’nt done it yet

    • Joy says:

      If you’re taking a narcotic for pain medicine I would suggest you ask your doctor for a stool softener. It’s already difficult dealing with the urinary issues and it would be worse if you had bowel issues with it.

  16. Joy says:

    I had my stent placed February 2014 and am still suffering from it. My reactions to the stent are: A wide range from no blood to pink blood to dark red blood in urine. It goes away and then comes back. Intermittent pain on side where stent is. Frequent bladder spasms. Always feeling like I have a urinary tract infection. Burning pain when urinating that often shoots toward kidney. This was more severe right after stent was placed. I used to have to brace myself for the pain, but it has gotten better although has not gone away. I have to take norco to manage the pain and colace to hopefully prevent constipation. The colace alone did not prevent constipation. I had to increase fiber and fluid intake. I always feel like I have to urinate a lot (even before increasing my fluid intake). Sleep is disturbed because I have to get up 2 to 4 times (minimum) during the night to urinate. I’m happy if I only had to get up twice during the night. All that being said, I would have the stent rather than experiencing the excruciating pain I had without it. Before the stent, I could not manage the pain without IV morphine, fentanyl, and hospitalization. At least with the stent I can be at home, however, I cannot work because I can’t take narcotics for pain and work 12 hours. I was told by my primary physician and the urologist that some people don’t have any problems with the stent and some people do. I am one of the “lucky” ones and have problems with it.

  17. Paul Longhurst says:

    Question..
    Lucky me…. just had a stent put in yesterday to remove kidney stones. I have typical symptoms, blood in urine, discomfort, needing to urinate often and low control to hold it until I reach a toilet . My question, does this get better with time or is this my life until stent is removed?

    • Kelly says:

      Paul… I just had my 2nd stent removed yesterday. My nightmare began Feb 20th 2014. After 3 surgeries and 2 stents later, I hate to say this but it will get better with the stent and just when your body is about to get used to it.. BAM they take it out and the pain is worse! My dr didnt inform me of “spasms”! Good luck and drink plenty of water!

    • Dino says:

      Paul, I had to have one put in about 2 weeks ago, and if you’re the same as me it does seem to get better…either that or I’m just getting used to the pain. Every time I went to the bathroom I felt like someone whacked my kidney with a baseball bat, both at the start and at the end of me voiding. I guess my bladder was having spasms and you get some back pressure via your ureter to your kidney. Also you have to realize that the stent is just bugging the snot out of your bladder letting you think you have to go. I had to carry a portable urinal with me from point A to point B in case I didn’t make it and then I had to drop to my knees to take a leak because I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. I figured that dropping to my knees was a lot better than passing out and cracking the commode with my head. If they have you on narco’s beware of constipation. Get some miralax….the miralax will make you poop good, but won’t normally turn you into a crap machine, you’ll be as smooth as peanut butter. I am getting a laser ureteroscopy in a week or two…I am told that the stent will be removed a few days later. If he can’t get to it, he’ll do a shock wave lithotripsy. See…there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can honestly say “I feel your pain.” Good luck.

  18. peter christensen says:

    what do you do when when you cant see the small string any more

    • Dr. Mike Nguyen says:

      Your urologist will then need to use a camera to go “fishing” for the stent. If the string is still in the urethra, the camera will only need to be partially inserted but if the string has gone into the bladder, the camera will need to be inserted all the way. This is the same as what would have been done if no string was left in the first place.

  19. Tammi says:

    I am struggling right now with a 5mm and a 6mm in my left kidney, just four weeks after I had a 4 and a 6 busted with litho. I am having litho again on Friday for these two. My urologist gives me mixed messages all the time about the stones.
    The night after I had litho in January, which was preventive because I was bleeding heavily from the stones, I had a stone go into the ureter. They were supposed to be all broken up but alas, one came out big enough to send me to the ER begging for help. They did a CT and said it was 8mm and it was in the ureter just outside the kidney. The only thing that could be done since I was on the heels of litho not even 24 hours prior, was to place a stent, which they did. It was done by an on call urologist, not mine. When I went for the follow up on Monday, my dr said the urologist on call had misdiagnosed it and it was really only a 3.8mm and it was just a fragment from the litho. How do radiologist and urologist make a mistake like this? Since when are stones measured in decimal points? He took the stent out a week later. I kept having discomfort but no bleeding. He did an ultrasound and found a 5mm and 6mm in the left side again! I also have a 4mm in the right but it doesn’t cause me much pain right now. He scheduled another litho. They did test my stones and they are calcium oxylate monohydrate.. the hardest kind and they are hard to break up with litho. What on earth an I do about these stones continually forming? UGHHH. My question now is to stent or not to stent. Any one have any ideas on that? I didn’t stint the last time and it led to trouble but they are so damn uncomfortable, I don’t want to deal with it if I don’t have to. I had a stent the first time in 2011 and it was very uncomfortable. I opted NOT to have a stent in 2012 and had one small fragment give me trouble but it passed on its on without a trip to the ER. So, naturally this January, I chose no stent again… OH boy. That night was the worst pain EVER. As I said, they did a second surgery to place the stent so I could get relief and that dr. said they would have to do litho again to break it up cause it was 8mm. My urologist called BS and said he didn’t think I still had one at all. He ordered a sonogram and there were TWO, a 5mm and a 6mm. Soo… he said we needed to treat them. I am having the litho this Friday and I don’t want a stent but I am afraid of the pain if it doesn’t break them enough to pass and I am without a stent. I have no idea if I should stent or just take my chances that I wont have an ER visit soon after the litho. Any help/advice would be appreciated. To stent or not stent?

    • Dino says:

      I can see how they make a mistake on the size of the stone…I had one that I was told was about 3 mm, and they were right…it was 3mm x 7 mm. So I am assuming that when the radiology was done the stone was turned from that angle…dang thing looked like a clove (the spice) it had a head on it and everything. Anyways, my advice is drink water like it’s going out of style, and stay away from oxalates in your diet (beets, kale, spinach…etc.) these things only seem to make them grow bigger. Good Luck.

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