Bladder stones are crystallized minerals that form when concentrated urine hardens in the bladder after urination.
Over 90 percent of your urine is water. The rest contains minerals, 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 the inability to completely empty your bladder. This may be due to an enlarged prostate, bladder problems, or urinary tract infections (UTIs). If left untreated, bladder stones can lead to infections and other complications.
What are the symptoms of bladder stones?
Typical symptoms of bladder stones are:
- frequent urination, especially during the night
- lower abdominal pain
- a burning sensation or pain in the urethra when urinating
- bloody or cloudy urine
- incontinence, or an inability to control urination
Who is at risk for bladder stones?
The majority of people who develop bladder stones are men — especially older men with prostate problems. Men in their 80s have a much higher risk than younger men. However, even men in their 30s living in industrialized countries can develop stones. People within these regions are more likely to have diets high in fat and sugar.
Children who live in developing countries are also susceptible to bladder stones. They often don’t have access to enough water to stay hydrated and their diets tend to be poor.
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:
Bacteria and other organisms can cause bladder infections or inflammation. UTIs are a common cause of bladder stones.
Although men develop more bladder stones, women have more bladder infections than men. Women have shorter urethras, so there’s a shorter path for bacteria to enter the bladder.
Your urethra can be injured or damaged from illness, disease, or trauma. It may narrow due to infection and block the flow of urine exiting your body.
Enlarged prostate gland
Your prostate gland surrounds your urethra, the thin tube that transports urine from your bladder during urination. When the prostate gland enlarges, it can press against the urethra and interfere with urination.
Neurogenic bladder is a condition that affects the nerves transporting messages from your brain to your bladder muscles. Injury or damage to these nerves may prevent your brain from telling your bladder muscles to contract and expand in order to urinate. This can cause urine to remain in your bladder and form stones.
The walls of your bladder may become weak in some areas and form pouches that bulge outward. Urine can collect and store in these pouches.
Small stones can form in your kidneys and travel down the ureters, two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This can cause bladder problems.
Though kidney stones differ in their development, they may become bladder stones when they reach the bladder.
Small kidney stones may pass painlessly through your urine, but others may become large enough that they have to be removed by a physician.
How are bladder stones diagnosed?
If you have complications with urination or any of the symptoms associated with bladder stones, see your doctor. They’ll likely give you a physical exam prior to other diagnostic tests. If you’re a man, your physical may include checking to see if you have an enlarged prostate.
Diagnostic tests may include:
This test is used to check your urine for crystallization, infection, and other abnormalities.
Spiral CT scan
This type of CT scan checks for complications in the bladder or anywhere else in the body. It’s faster and more accurate than a traditional CT scan.
A pelvic ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. These images will help your doctor see if stones are present in your bladder.
X-rays and intravenous pyelogram
X-rays show the inside of the bladder and most abnormalities that may be present.
During intravenous pyelogram, a dye is injected into your veins that flows through your blood vessels until it reaches your bladder. The dye highlights any unusual formations and then X-rays are taken of the highlighted results.
X-rays may not show every stone in your bladder and due to this, these diagnostic tests aren’t used for bladder stones very often now.
How are bladder stones treated?
If your doctor finds that you have bladder stones, they may perform a cystolitholapaxy. In this procedure, laser energy or ultrasound waves are used to break your stones down into smaller pieces for removal.
If stones don’t break down with this procedure, removal surgery may be necessary.
The outlook for treatment of bladder stones is positive. After treatment, you can help prevent bladder problems by drinking plenty of water (at least 8 glasses or 64 ounces daily). Also, seek prompt treatment for UTI symptoms or other urinary tract conditions.