A gynecologic surgeon learns very early in his/her career to respect the ureter. Whether from the procedure being performed (endometriosis surgery, hysterectomy, myomectomy for ligamentous fibroids, salpingo-oophorectomy, excision of ovarian remnants, adhesiolysis), blood loss that obscures visualization and must be controlled, or use of energy for cutting, desiccation, and coagulation leading to potential lateral tissue damage, ureteral injury is a well-known complication. Even normal anatomic variations may put some women at greater risk; according to Hurd et al. (). In a small subset of women, the distance between the cervix and the ureter may be less than 0.5 cm.
As a practicing minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon for the past 30 years, and an early adapter to laparoscopic hysterectomy, I remember quite well the recommendation to always dissect out ureters at time of the procedure. At present, most will agree that selective dissection is safe and thus, more desirable, as bleeding, damage secondary to desiccation, and ureter devascularization with subsequent necrosis are all increased with ureterolysis.
I agree with Dr. Kenton and Dr. Mueller that ureteral stenting has not been shown to significantly decrease ureteral injury rates. Often times, with loss of peristalsis secondary to stent placement, locating the ureter may be even more difficult. Recent advances using lighted stents or indocyanine green, which fluoresces in response to near-infrared laser and can be injected into the ureter via the ureteral catheter tip, are still in the feasibility phase of evaluation and can be costly.
As most urogenital fistulae are secondary to unrecognized injuries at time of surgery, and due to the fact that intraoperative recognition of the injury allows for primary repair, thus, decreasing the rate of secondary surgery and the associated increased morbidity, I recommend cystoscopy to check for ureteral jets (ureteral efflux) be performed when there is concern regarding ureter compromise.
Currently, I utilize a 70° cystoscope to visualize the ureters. While in the past, I have used intravenous indigo carmine, methylene blue, or fluorescein sodium, I currently use Pyridium (phenazopyridine) 200 mg taken by mouth 1 hour prior to the procedure.
Unfortunately, ureteral jetting still may be noted despite partial ligation, laceration, or desiccation of the ureter.
If ureteral injury is not recognized at time of surgery, it can lead to various postoperative symptoms. If there is a ureteral defect, the patient may note profuse wound leakage, increased abdominal fluid, or a urinoma, ileus, fever, peritonitis, or hematuria. With ureteral obstruction, flank or abdominal pain or anuria can be noted; while, with fistula formation, the patient will likely present with urinary incontinence or watery vaginal discharge.
Dr. Miller is a minimally invasive gynecologic surgeon in Naperville, Ill., and a past president of the AAGL.