Urine travels from the kidney to the bladder through tubes called ureters. A ureter stone is a mineral mass in the ureter, which may or may not have originated in the kidney and traveled down into the ureter. A stone begins when particles of minerals in stagnated urine crystallize and form a mass.
If small enough, a stone can disengage and pass through the ureter and out of the body unnoticed. If it is too large, it may lodge in the ureter and obstruct the flow of urine.
Treatments that do not require the use of surgical procedures are always preferable. If stones are small enough, a daily regimen of the patient drinking two to three quarts of water can cause a stone to pass naturally out of the body. Pain medication may be recommended, as well as follow-up medications to control acid or alkali in the urine (the key elements of crystals), or to decrease calcium released into urine by the kidneys and assist in calcium retention in the bones.
When treating infected (struvite) stones, it is important to keep the urine free of bacteria after removal in order to prevent further infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed and regular urinalyses performed.
If stones are causing pain, blocking urine flow, causing infection or growing, surgery is usually necessary. New non-surgical and endoscopic options are available.
Used only for stones in the mid and lower ureter, ureteroscopic stone removal does not require an incision. Instead, a fiberoptic ureterscope is inserted through the bladder into the ureter to locate the stone, which is either extracted with a cage-like device or shattered with shock waves. A stent may be used to assist in urine flow.