Urology of Greater Atlanta

Navigating Ureteral Obstruction: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

A woman with ureteral obstruction pain.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of ureteral obstruction. By understanding the symptoms and seeking timely medical attention, individuals can mitigate the potential risks to kidney function and overall well-being.

If you’re experiencing symptoms or seeking expert guidance on urinary health, consider reaching out to us at Urology of Greater Atlanta. Our skilled board-certified urologists are dedicated to providing compassionate care and tailored treatment options. With multiple offices within Georgia, we are ready to give you the assistance you are looking for.

What is Ureteral Obstruction?

Ureteral obstruction occurs when something blocks the tubes (ureters) that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. When the ureters are blocked, urine backs up into the kidneys. This can lead to swelling, pressure, and even damage.

The feeling of ureteral obstruction can be intense. It’s like a sharp, stabbing, severe pain in your lower back or side. You might also notice changes in how often you pee or the color of your urine.

This condition can affect anyone, but certain groups are more prone to it. People who have had kidney stones before are at higher risk. So are those with conditions that affect the urinary tract, like tumors or congenital abnormalities.

What Causes Ureteral Obstructions?

Ureteral obstructions can be caused by kidney stones, tumors, blood clots, UTIs, and kidney damage, all of which disrupt the normal flow of urine through the urinary tract. 

  • Kidney stones: Kidney stones are hard deposits that form in your kidneys and can sometimes get stuck in the ureters, causing a blockage.
  • Urinary tract infections: UTIs can also play a role. When bacteria infect the urinary tract, it can lead to inflammation and swelling, which may block urine flow through the ureters.
  • Kidney Damage: Sometimes, kidney damage from injuries or other health conditions can result in ureteral obstructions. Scar tissue can form as the kidneys heal, narrowing the ureters and hindering urine flow.
  • Tumors or Blood clots: Tumors or blood clots can also cause blockages. Tumors grow in the urinary tract and can physically block the ureters, while blood clots can form and get lodged in these narrow tubes.
A man holding his back because of kidney pain.

What Are the Symptoms of a Ureteral Obstruction?

Ureteral obstructions can cause several noticeable symptoms that signal something’s not right in your urinary system. It could include the following:

  • Severe Pain: One of the most common symptoms is intense pain in your lower back or side. It can feel sharp, stabbing, or cramp-like.
  • Changes in Urination: You might notice changes in how you pee. This could mean peeing more often or less frequently than usual. Sometimes, you may feel like you need to go urgently but can’t pass much urine or have difficulty urinating. Blood in the urine (hematuria) can also occur, giving it a pink, red, or cola-colored appearance.
  • Flank Pain: Pain in the area between your ribs and hips, known as the flank, is another common symptom. It usually occurs on the side of the affected kidney.
  • Kidney Function Changes: Ureteral obstructions can affect kidney function. If the blockage isn’t relieved, it can lead to reduced kidney function or even kidney damage over time. Symptoms of kidney dysfunction may include swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet, fatigue, nausea, and changes in urine output.

These symptoms can vary in severity depending on the underlying cause and the extent of the blockage. If you experience any of these symptoms, especially severe pain or blood in your urine, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly. Ignoring these signs could lead to complications and further damage to your kidneys and urinary tract.

How is Urinary Tract Obstruction Diagnosed?

Diagnosing ureteral obstructions involves a series of tests to identify the cause and location of the blockage. Here’s how it’s commonly done:

Urologists in Atlanta visiting a patient with a ureteral obstruction.
  1. Medical History and Physical Exam: Your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms and medical history. They’ll also perform a physical exam to check for signs of ureteral obstruction, such as tenderness in the lower back or abdomen.
  2. Urinalysis: A urinalysis involves analyzing a sample of your urine to check for signs of infection, such as bacteria, white blood cells, or blood.
  3. Imaging Tests: Several imaging tests can help visualize the urinary tract and identify any blockages. These may include:
    • Ultrasound: This non-invasive test uses sound waves to create images of the kidneys and bladder. It can show if the kidneys are swollen, which may indicate a blockage.
    • CT Scan: A CT scan provides detailed images of the urinary tract and can detect kidney stones, tumors, or other obstructions.
    • MRI: In some cases, an MRI may be used to obtain more detailed images of the urinary tract, particularly if there are concerns about radiation exposure.
  4. Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP): During an IVP, a contrast dye is injected into a vein, which then travels through the bloodstream and into the kidneys. X-ray images are taken as the dye moves through the urinary tract, allowing doctors to see any blockages or abnormalities.
  5. Cystoscopy: If other tests don’t provide a clear diagnosis, a cystoscopy may be performed. This involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the urethra and up into the bladder to visualize the ureters and renal pelvis directly.

These diagnostic tests help doctors determine the cause and severity of the ureteral obstruction, whether it’s due to kidney stones, cancerous tumors, or other factors. Once diagnosed, appropriate treatment can be recommended to relieve the blockage and restore normal urine flow.

How is a Ureteral Obstruction Treated?

Treating ureteral obstructions aims to remove the blockage and restore proper urine flow. The specific treatment depends on the cause and severity of the obstruction. Here are common approaches:

  • Medications: If the obstruction is caused by urinary tract infections (UTIs) or inflammation, antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to clear the infection and reduce swelling. These medications can help alleviate symptoms and prevent further complications.
  • Ureteral Stent: A ureteral stent is a thin, flexible tube that’s inserted into the ureter to bypass the obstruction and allow urine to drain from the kidney to the bladder. This is often done as a temporary measure to relieve symptoms while waiting for other treatments or for the obstruction to resolve on its own.
  • Nephrostomy Tube: In some cases, particularly if the obstruction is severe or the ureteral stent cannot be placed, a nephrostomy tube may be inserted directly into the kidney to drain urine. This tube exits through the skin and is connected to a drainage bag outside the body.
  • Surgery: Surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the underlying cause of the obstruction, such as kidney stones, tumors, or scar tissue. Procedures like ureteroscopy, lithotripsy (breaking up kidney stones with sound waves), or open surgery may be performed depending on the specific situation.

Understanding and Addressing Ureteral Obstruction

If you’re experiencing symptoms of ureteral obstruction, don’t wait to seek help. Schedule an appointment with Urology of Greater Atlanta today to receive personalized care and expert treatment from our experienced urologists. Your urinary health is our priority.

We have multiple locations throughout Georgia. Call to schedule an appointment today!

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