Kidney Stent

Kidney stent (medically called a ureteric stent) is a specially designed hollow tube, made of a flexible plastic material.

It is commonly placed inside the ureter, between the kidney and the bladder, in order to temporarily relieve obstruction.

Ureters are muscular tubes that extend from the kidneys to the urinary bladder (bladder). They are responsible for transporting urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Occasionally, one or both ureters may become blocked and prevent the flow of urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Any blockage within the urinary tract that affects the flow of urine can be dangerous. Urine that is backed up in the kidneys cause infections and can also cause serious damage to the kidneys. It is, therefore, vitally important for any blockage within the urinary tract to be promptly relieved, and the cause of the blockage removed or treated.

Ureteric Stent Diagram

Kidney Stent Diagram

Stents are designed to stay in the urinary system by having both the ends coiled. The top end coils in the kidney and the lower end coils inside the bladder to prevent it from being displaced during physical activity.

Stents are flexible enough to withstand various body movements. The length of the stents used in adult patients varies between 24 to 30 cm. Although there are different types of stents, they all serve the same purpose.

The purpose of a stent is to allow drainage of urine from the kidneys to the bladder, whenever there is blockage of the ureters.

Overview of the Urinary System

Urinary System

The urinary system consists of two (2) kidneys (one, in some cases), two (2) ureters, one (1) bladder, and one (1) urethra.

Urine is formed in the kidneys and is carried to the bladder by two fine muscular tubes called a ureter.

The urinary bladder acts as a reservoir for the urine. It stores urine and when it becomes full, the urine is expelled from the body via the urethra.

Sometimes one or both ureters may become blocked or obstructed, preventing urine from being excreted from the body. Once the ureter is blocked, a stent is used to drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Some common causes of obstruction of the ureters include the following:

  • Kidney stone (or fragments of kidney stone moving into the ureter, either spontaneously or occasionally, following treatment such as shock wave lithotripsy).

  • Narrowing of the ureter anywhere along its path. This may be caused by scarring of wall of the ureter or narrowing of the area where ureter starts from the kidney (pelvi-ureteric junction).

  • Temporarily, following an operation or after an instrument has been inserted into the ureter and kidneys.

  • Occasionally, obstruction can occur because of diseases of the prostate or tumors of the urinary system.

Whenever there is an obstruction pressure builds up within the kidney, which can cause kidney damage (leading to kidney failure). The obstruction can also cause stagnation of the urine, which can lead to infection and further damage to the kidneys. It is, therefore, important to relieve or prevent obstruction of the urinary system.

Using Kidney Stent to Relieve Obstruction

Ureteric Stent is sometimes used in the following circumstances:

  • When it is essential to relieve obstruction (such as kidney stone) on a temporary basis, before treatment of the underlying condition is carried out.

  • It is not possible to identify what has caused an obstruction and immediate treatment is necessary.

  • Following an operation on the ureters. It takes time for the ureters to heal, so stents are used as a temporary measure to prevent obstruction and allow the ureters to heal properly.

Inserting a Kidney Stent

The procedure for inserting a ureteric stent is relatively straight-forward.

A patient is usually placed under general anesthetic before inserting the stent. A special telescope called a cystoscope is then passed through the urethra into the bladder.

The stent is then placed into the ureter and kidney via the opening of the ureter in the bladder. The correct position of a stent is then checked by taking an x-ray.

How is a Kidney stent removed?

Once the underlying condition that caused blockage of the ureter is resolved and the ureter is healed, the stent can be removed. Kidney stent removal is a short procedure.

The stent is removed using a cystoscope, usually under local anesthesia. Sometimes a stent can be left with a thread attached to its lower end that stays outside the body through the urethra. The doctors can remove such stents by just pulling this thread.

Living with a Kidney Stent

In the majority of patients, kidney stents are required for only a short period of time. This could typically range from a few weeks to a few months.

When the underlying problem is not a kidney stone, the stent can stay in for several months.

While side effects are usually mild, a stent can sometimes be uncomfortable. Some of the side effects include:

  • An increased frequency of passing urine;
  • The need to rush to pass urine (urgency);
  • A small amount of blood in the urine. This is quite common and the situation can improve with greater fluid intake.
  • Stents can also result in a sensation of incomplete emptying of the bladder.
  • Very occasionally, especially in women, there is a slight risk of urinary incontinence episodes.
  • Patients with a stent in place will be aware of its presence most of the time.
  • Discomfort or pain, commonly in the bladder and kidney (loin) area. Sometimes this can affect other areas such as the groin, urethra and genitals. The discomfort or pain may be more noticeable after physical activities and after passing urine.

A patient may experience one or some of these symptoms, especially soon after the ureteric stent is inserted. There is a tendency, however, for some of these symptoms, such as pain while passing urine and blood in the urine, to improve with time.

Kidney Stent and urinary tract infection

The presence of a stent, along with the underlying kidney problem, makes it more likely that a urinary tract infection can develop. If a patient develops urinary tract infection, some of the symptoms may include raised body temperature, increased pain or discomfort in the kidney or bladder area, a burning sensation while passing urine and feeling unwell. This usually requires treatment with antibiotics.

How does a kidney stent affect daily activities?

A patient with a kidney stent can perform most activities with little or no problems. There are some situations, however, where having a stent can affect daily activities. Let us look at some of the activities that can be affected by a stent inserted in the urinary tract.

  • Physical activities and sports
    Provided the underlying kidney condition and your health allows it, most patients can carry on with various physical activities while the stent is in place. However, some discomfort may be experienced in the kidney area and passing of blood in the urine, especially if sports and strenuous physical activities are involved. Sometimes side effects associated with a stent can make you feel more tired than normal. It is advisable to moderate physical activities while the stent is in place.

  • Work activities
    Depending on the nature of work, it is possible to continue to work normally with an inserted stent. However, work that involves strenuous physical activities may have to be limited, since it can cause some discomfort. Occasionally side effects, such as urinary symptoms and pain associated with the stent, may cause a patient to feel tired. If the stent causes significant problems, it may be advisable for a patient discuss their situation with their manager and colleagues, so that possible temporary adjustments can be made to the patient's work schedule.

  • Social life and interactions
    The presence of a kidney stent should not significantly affect your social life. Symptoms such as, increased frequency and urgency of urination, may require that a patient use public toilets more frequently, while taking part in outdoor activities. Occasionally, a little extra help may be needed from family members or colleagues, because of any pain or tiredness experienced.

  • Sex
    Few patients experience discomfort during sexual activities. Occasionally the side effects associated with the stent may reduce sexual desire. If a patient has a ureteric stent with a thread coming outside the body through the urethra, sexual activities may be difficult. Care will also be required so as not to dislodge the thread, which could in turn displace the stent.

Thankfully, most patients only have to put up with these inconveniences for a short period of time. Once the underlying condition is resolved and the ureter is sufficiently healed, the stent can be removed and life returns to full normalcy.

It is essential for patients with a ureteric stent to drink at least 1.5 to 2 liters of fluids (mainly water) every day.

This will help to minimize the risk of infection and will reduce the amount of blood in the urine.

It will also help with the treatment of kidney stones.

Any patient with a stent who experiences bothersome pain can take painkillers for relief, on the advice of a doctor.

If the stent has a thread coming down from the urethra and extends outside the body, then extra care should be taken, to avoid dislodging the thread.

If you have a kidney stent or are about to have one inserted, you should talk to your doctor about all the implications, including side effects and restriction of any activities. Check with your doctor, immediately, if you experience any severe symptoms or if the stent gets dislodged or falls out.

Have you, or someone you know, used a kidney stent?

If you, or someone you know, currently use or have used a stent before, why not share your experiences? Please tell us about any challenges you encountered and how did you deal with them?

By sharing your experiences, you can help other patients who may be faced with similar circumstances.

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