Most injuries to the ureter occur during pelvic or abdominal operations, such as removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or the colon (colectomy) or repair of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, or during ureteroscopy (an examination of the ureter with a rigid or flexible viewing tube). Another cause of ureteral injury is penetration by either a gunshot or stab wound. A ureteral injury from a direct blow to the body is uncommon. Rarely, blunt injuries, particularly those that cause the trunk to bend backward, can separate the upper part of the ureter from the kidney.
If ureteral injuries are untreated, complications, such as formation of a fistula (abnormal connection to another abdominal structure), stricture (narrowing of the ureter), or persistent urinary leakage and infection, may result.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
People may complain simply of pain in the abdomen or flank (the area between the ribs and hip), or they may notice urine leaking from their wound. Fever may accompany an infection caused by persistent urinary leakage. Blood may appear in the urine.
Because ureteral injury is rarely the most likely cause of such symptoms, an injury to the ureter may not be recognized promptly. Usually, doctors suspect an injury when a person who has symptoms has had a recent surgical procedure or when a person has a wound that has penetrated the abdomen. When a ureteral injury is suspected, imaging tests are needed. The initial test is often computed tomography (CT) with radiopaque dye (contrast agent) or intravenous urography. Occasionally, retrograde urography (an x-ray taken after a radiopaque dye is instilled directly into the end of the urethra) may be done. Sometimes, ureteral injuries are identified during surgery.
Some minor ureteral injuries can be treated by placing a flexible tube (stent) in the ureter either through the bladder or through the kidney via a small incision in the side (percutaneous nephrostomy). These treatments divert urine from flowing through the ureter, usually for 2 to 6 weeks, allowing the ureter to heal. If the ureteral injury does not heal despite the use of a stent, additional surgery may be needed. In people with more severe injuries, surgery may be required to reconstruct the ureter.
Treatment helps to prevent complications of ureteral injuries. If complications occur despite efforts to prevent them, they must be treated.
Last full review/revision June 2007 by Noel A. Armenakas, MD