Bladder Stones: The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good

Written by Brindles Lee Macon and Matthew Solan | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Bladder stones are crystallized minerals that form when concentrated urine (less water and more waste products) is left in the bladder after urination.

About 95 percent of urine is water. The other five percent is mineral (such as salt) and waste products (such as protein). Concentrated urine can vary in color from dark amber to brown depending on the types of waste and minerals it contains.

Concentrated urine is often the result of dehydration or not being able to completely empty your bladder. This may be due to an enlarged prostate, bladder problems, or urinary tract infections. Left untreated, bladder stones can lead to infections and other complications.

What are the Symptoms of Bladder Stones?

The symptoms of bladder stones are:

  • frequent urination, especially during the night.
  • lower abdominal pain
  • men and women may experience a burning sensation or pain in the urethra when urinating
  • urine that contains blood or appears cloudy
  • the inability to control urine

What Causes Bladder Stones?

The formation of bladder stones may be a secondary symptom of an underlying urinary tract problem. Conditions that may contribute to bladder stones include the following.

Enlarged Prostate Gland

The prostate gland surrounds the urethra, a thin tube that transports urine from the bladder during urination. When the prostate gland enlarges, it can press against the urethra and interfere with normal urination.

Neurogenic Bladder

Neurogenic bladder is a condition that affects the nerves that transport messages from your brain to the muscles of your bladder. Injury or damage to these nerves may prevent your brain from telling your bladder’s muscles to contract and expand in order to urinate. This can cause urine to remain in your bladder and form stones.

Weak Bladder

The sides or walls of your bladder may become weak in some areas. These weakened areas can form pouches that bulge outward. Urine can collect and store in these pouches.

Infection or Inflammation

Bacteria and other organisms can cause bladder infections or inflammation. Urinary tract infections are common causes of bladder stones.

Kidney Stones

Small stones that can form in your kidneys may travel down the ureters (two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder) and cause bladder problems. Though kidney stones differ in their development, they may become bladder stones once they reach the bladder. Small kidney stones may not present any problems, and may pass painlessly through your urine. Others become large enough that they have to be removed by a physician.

Who is at Risk for Bladder Stones?

More than 95 percent of people that develop bladder stones are men—especially older men who have problems with their prostate gland. Men in their 80s have a much higher risk than younger men. However, even men in their 30s can develop stones if they live in industrialized countries—regions more likely to have diets high in fat and sugar.

Other risk factors are:

Bladder or Urinary Infections (UTIs)

Infections in the bladder begin with the introduction of bacteria. Although men develop the most bladder stones, women have more bladder infections than men. Women have shorter urethras, which makes for a shorter pathway for bacteria to enter the bladder.

Damaged Urethra

The urethra can be injured or damaged from illness, disease, or trauma. It may narrow due to infection and block the flow of urine from passing to the outside.

Children in Developing Countries

Children who live in developing countries are also susceptible to bladder stones. These children often do not have access to enough water to stay hydrated and their diets tend to be poor.

How are Bladder Stones Diagnosed?

If you have complications with urination or any of the symptoms associated with bladder stones, see your doctor. Your will likely have a physical exam prior to using other diagnostic tests. If you are a man, the physical exam may include checking the prostate gland to see if it is enlarged.

Diagnostic tests may include:

Urinalysis

Urinalysis is a test used to check your urine for crystallization, infection, and other abnormalities.

Spiral Computerized Tomography Scan

This is a type of computed tomography (CT) scan that checks for complications in the bladder (or anywhere in the body) faster and more accurately than traditional CT scanners.

Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the inside of the body.

X-Ray

X-rays show the inside of the bladder and most abnormalities present. However, this method may not show every stone in the bladder.

Intravenous Pyelogram

A dye is injected into the veins and flows through the blood vessels until it reaches the bladder. The dye highlights any abnormal formations. X-rays are taken of the highlighted results.

How are Bladder Stones Treated?

If your doctor finds bladder stones, he or she may perform a cystolitholapaxy —using a laser, mechanical, or ultrasound device—to break them down into smaller pieces for removal.

In cases of stones that do not break in the cystolitholapaxy procedure, surgery may be necessary to remove any stones.

Long-Term Outlook

The long-term outlook for treating bladder stones is excellent. After treatment, you can help prevent bladder problems by drinking plenty of water every day.

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