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Management of Ureteral Injuries

Jun 2012 – by L. Copeland, MD

Editor: Chris Zahn, MD


Ureteral injuries are relatively uncommon, but do occur at the time of gynecologic surgery, and are arguably more commonly with gynecologic than other types of abdominopelvic surgery. Historically, the incidence of ureteral injury ranges from < 0.1% to over 1% depending on the surgery being performed and approach, including laparotomy and laparoscopy. Reported rates of ureteral injury are higher for abdominal hysterectomy than for vaginal hysterectomy. Risk factors include prior surgery, malignancy, infection, a large uterus, endometriosis, and pelvic organ prolapse.

Prevention of injury is critical; however, there are no well-established methods for most surgical settings. Preoperative stenting has not been generally shown to reduce risk of injury; lighted stents have been described but have not been well-studied in the gynecologic literature. Intraoperative identification is key to avoid injury.

Diagnosis is best accomplished in the acute setting, although the majority of injuries may not be diagnosed acutely. If injury is suspected, intraoperative evaluation including cystoscopy and possible ureteral catheterization is indicated. In the acute or near postoperative period, retrograde pyelography is the most sensitive study. If undiagnosed, the most common presenting signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, possible peritonitis, leukocytosis, and fever. Flank pain may or may not be present. If ureteral injury is suspected postoperatively, cystoscopy or retrograde pyelography should be performed. CT-IVP may be used if these studies cannot be conducted.

In gynecologic surgery, the distal aspect is the most commonly injured location, typically near the bladder at the proximity of the ureter and uterine artery. Other locations may include near the pelvic brim and near the utero-ovarian ligament.

Some injuries, such as incomplete obstruction and kinking, may be treated with stent placement. If suture has caused the obstruction, suture removal may be required. For more significant injuries, including crush injuries and transection, the surgical approach depends on the location. For distal injuries, ureteroneocystotomy is appropriate, in which the distal ureter is re-implanted into the bladder. The re-implanted ureter is stented and the bladder drained; the stent is typically left in place for 6 weeks. An abdominal drain (such as a J-P drain) should be placed in the event an anastomotic leak may occur. A psoas hitch may be necessary to avoid tension on the re-implanted ureter.

More proximal ureteral injuries may necessitate a ureteroureterostomy, usually for small (2-3 cm) defects in which the injured ureter may be resected and a primary anastomosis performed. In a proximal injury in which the distal segment cannot be used, a Boari flap (creating a “tubular” flap to function as a “distal ureter”) may be needed. If the length of damaged ureter prevents consideration of a ureteroneocystotomy or ureteroureterostomy, then a transureteroureterostomy may be indicated, in which the injured ureter is anastomosed into the contralateral ureter. Finally, in extreme cases, renal autotransplantation or the use of “substitute” materials such as gastrointestinal segments may be necessary.

Further Reading:

Burks FN, Santucci RA. Management of iatrogenic ureteral injury. Ther Adv Urol 2014; 6: 115-124.

ACOG Committee Opinion # 372: The role of cystourethroscopy in the generalist obstetrician-gynecologist practice. ACOG: July 2007, reaffirmed 2015.

Ibeanu OA, Chesson RR, Echols KT, Nieves M, Busangu F, Nolan TE. Urinary tract injury during hysterectomy based on universal cystoscopy. Obstet Gynecol 2009; 113: 6-10.