What is the anatomy of the ureter relevant to nephrolithiasis?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: Chirag N Dave, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Answer

The basic anatomy of the ureter is as follows (see the image below).

Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Anatomy of the Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Anatomy of the ureter.

Most of the pain receptors of the upper urinary tract responsible for the perception of renal colic are located submucosally in the renal pelvis, calices, renal capsule, and upper ureter. Acute distention seems to be more important in the development of the pain of acute renal colic than spasm, local irritation, or ureteral hyperperistalsis.

Stimulation of the peripelvic renal capsule causes flank pain, while stimulation of the renal pelvis and calices causes typical renal colic (see the image below). Mucosal irritation can be sensed in the renal pelvis to some degree by chemoreceptors, but this irritation is thought to play only a minor role in the perception of renal or ureteral colic.

Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Renal colic an Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Renal colic and flank pain.

Renal pain fibers are primarily preganglionic sympathetic nerves that reach spinal cord levels T-11 to L-2 through the dorsal nerve roots (see the images below). Aortorenal, celiac, and inferior mesenteric ganglia are also involved. Spinal transmission of renal pain signals occurs primarily through the ascending spinothalamic tracts.

Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Nerve supply o Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Nerve supply of the kidney.
Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Nerve supply o Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Nerve supply of the kidney.

In the lower ureter, pain signals are also distributed through the genitofemoral and ilioinguinal nerves (see the image below). The nervi erigentes, which innervate the intramural ureter and bladder, are responsible for some of the bladder symptoms that often accompany an intramural ureteral calculus.

Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Distribution o Nephrolithiasis: acute renal colic. Distribution of nerves in the flank.

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