Nephrostomy procedure

What is a nephrostomy?

A nephrostomy is a procedure to drain urine from your kidney using a catheter (tube). The procedure is usually performed by a radiologist (doctor who specialises in x-rays and scans). Urine normally drains from your kidneys into your bladder through small muscular tubes (ureters). Tests have shown that one or both of your ureters has become blocked.

What are the benefits of nephrostomy?

You should have less risk of your kidney being damaged without having to have surgery. Your doctor will have time to find out why your ureter is blocked and to treat the problem.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Sometimes the problem can be treated by surgery.  However, this can take time and a nephrostomy will help your kidneys to carry on working.

What does the procedure involve?

A nephrostomy usually takes less than 30 minutes but can take up to 45 minutes if the procedure is difficult. The radiologist will insert the catheter in your kidney using a needle and guidewire (thin flexible wire). They will inject local anaesthetic into the area where the needle will be inserted.

When the radiologist is satisfied that the needle is in the right position, they will replace it with the catheter. The catheter will be attached to a plastic bag to hold the urine.

What complications can happen?

Like all surgical procedures, there are some complications that can be serious and can even cause death. Please bear in mind the general and specific complications regarding this type of operation.

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Making a hole in nearby structures with the needle
  • Leaking urine
  • Failed nephrostomy
  • Blocked nephrostomy
  • Radiation exposure

How soon will I recover?

You will need to stay in bed for at least a few hours to recover and rest. The catheter will need to stay in place until the cause of the blocked ureter has been treated. You may be able to go home the same day. If you go home while the catheter is still in place, the healthcare team will show you how to look after it and change the bag.


A blocked ureter is a serious condition. A nephrostomy is usually a safe and effective way of draining urine from your kidney to give your doctor time to find out why your ureter is blocked and to treat the problem. To find out more, call us on 0808 101 0337 .


Authors: Dr Jonathon Lloyd FRCS (England) FRCR, Mr John Lemberger FRCS

Illustrator: Medical Illustration Copyright ©

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