Although bladder stones and kidney stones are both comprised of the same concentrated minerals, they are not the same. They are located in different parts of the body and often have different symptoms. In both cases, if the stone doesn’t pass, it can lead to complications.

Bladder and kidney stones are solid masses of crystallized minerals made from proteins found in urine.

Bladder stones occur in the bladder, which stores urine. Kidney stones are found in one or both kidneys, which produce urine. Both types of stones form when the minerals in urine become concentrated and hard.

Kidney stones are more common than bladder stones. In some cases, kidney stones can turn into bladder stones if they move down the ureters — the narrow tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

In this article, we’ll cover the symptoms and causes of these stones, and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Bladder stones and kidney stones cause slightly different symptoms.

Bladder stone symptoms

Typically, small bladder stones cause no noticeable symptoms. They can often pass through the body without any issues.

Larger bladder stones are more likely to cause issues, such as:

Kidney stone symptoms

The symptoms of kidney stones are more noticeable and may include:

These symptoms can be more severe if a kidney stone gets stuck in the ureter or urethra.

Bladder and kidney stones develop when urine becomes concentrated. This causes the minerals in urine to harden, forming solid, crystallized stones.

Bladder stone causes

If the bladder is not emptied completely, stones can form. Possible reasons for the formation of these stones include:

  • Neurogenic bladder: Neurogenic bladder affects the nerves that control your bladder muscles. This makes it difficult for the bladder muscles to contract, causing urine to stay in the bladder.
  • Urinary bladder diverticulum: If part of the bladder wall is weak, it can form pouches. Urine can collect in these pouches and become concentrated.
  • Urinary tract infections: A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause inflammation in the bladder, which can lead to bladder stones.
  • Enlarged prostate: An enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia, can make it difficult to empty the bladder. It’s more common in older men.
  • Kidney stones: If a kidney stone gets trapped in the bladder, it can become bigger and turn into a bladder stone.

Kidney stone causes

Common causes of kidney stones include:

  • Dehydration: If you’re dehydrated and not drinking enough water, your kidneys will produce very little urine. This can lead to highly concentrated urine.
  • Diet: Eating too much salt, sugar, fructose, and animal proteins can increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Weight loss surgery: Weight loss surgery can change the mineral composition of urine, which can lead to kidney stones. It can also cause low urine volume, making urine more concentrated.
  • Infections: Some types of kidney stones are caused by UTIs.
  • Metabolic disorders: Conditions such as hypercalciuria (excess calcium in urine), hyperoxaluria (an overproduction of oxalate in urine), and hyperuricosuria (elevated levels of uric acid in urine) can affect the mineral composition of your urine.

There are some similarities and differences between the risk factors of these stones.

Bladder stone risk factors

Factors that increase your risk of bladder stones include:

Kidney stone risk factors

The following factors can increase your risk of kidney stones:

Bladder and kidney stones are diagnosed using similar techniques. This includes:

  • Medical history: Knowing your medical history will help your doctor determine your risk for bladder or kidney stones.
  • Physical examination: Your doctor will check for pain and other symptoms.
  • Urinalysis: A urinalysis is a test that checks a urine sample for blood and certain minerals. If your doctor thinks you have a UTI, they might also check for white blood cells and bacteria.
  • Blood test: This can measure levels of certain minerals in your blood.
  • Imaging tests: Your doctor can find stones using an abdominal and pelvic CT scan or ultrasound. They might also use an intravenous pyelogram, which is an X-ray of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.

Bladder stones vs. kidney stones

Bladder StonesKidney Stones
LocationBladderOne or both kidneys
SymptomsLower abdominal pain, frequent urge to urinate, painful or difficult urination, hematuriaSharp pain in back or side, frequent urge to urinate, painful or difficult urination, hematuria, cloudy or smelly urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills
CausesNeurogenic bladder, bladder diverticulum, urinary tract infections, enlarged prostate, kidney stonesDehydration, diet, weight loss surgery, infections, metabolic disorders
Risk FactorsBeing born male, older age, radiation, bladder augmentation, ureteral strictures, schistosomiasis, recurrent UTIs, using a Foley catheterBeing born male, hyperparathyroidism, drinking too little water, structural kidney abnormalities, obesity, hypertension, inflammatory bowel disease, cystic kidney disease, recurrent UTIs, certain medications, history of kidney stones
Diagnosis Physical exam, medical history, urinalysis, blood test, imaging testsSame as bladder stones
TreatmentMedication, ureteral stenting, nephrostomy, shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy Same as bladder stones
PreventionDrinking plenty of liquid, healthy weight maintenance, healthy diet, treating UTIs Same as bladder stones
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If a bladder or kidney stone is small, it can pass on its own. In this case, treatment is not necessary.

However, if a stone becomes so big that it blocks urine flow, you’ll need treatment.

Treatment options for bladder stones and kidney stones include:

  • Medication: Bladder or kidney stones can be dissolved with medication. The type of stone you have will determine how long you need treatment.
  • Ureteral stenting: This involves a flexible tube that’s inserted into the ureter. It helps urine flow from the affected kidney.
  • Nephrostomy: During a nephrostomy, a tube is placed in the affected kidney and attached to an external drainage bag. This helps urine flow out of the urinary tract.
  • Shock wave lithotripsy: This procedure breaks the stone into smaller pieces, making the stones easier to pass.
  • Ureteroscopy: A doctor uses a thin camera, called a cystoscope, to find the stone in your kidney or bladder. They might remove the stone or break it into smaller pieces.

In general, recovery after these procedures is brief. The recovery usually ends when the stone has successfully passed.

You may be able to reduce the risk of developing bladder or kidney stones by taking the following steps:

  • Drink plenty of liquid, especially water, every day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a balanced diet with a limited intake of salt, sugar, and animal proteins (red meat, poultry, seafood).
  • If you have hyperparathyroidism, getting your parathyroid gland removed can help prevent stones.
  • If you have a kidney stone, take your medication as directed.
  • If you have recurrent UTIs, visit your doctor to receive treatment and find the cause.
  • Let your doctor know if you have a family history of bladder or kidney stones.

Are bladder and kidney stones serious?

Occasionally, bladder and kidney stones can be serious. If they get too big and cause a blockage, they can cause severe complications.

Can bladder stones or kidney stones come back?

It’s possible to repeatedly develop bladder or kidney stones. If this occurs, talk with your doctor about prevention methods.

Can bladder or kidney stones pass on their own?

Small bladder or kidney stones can usually pass on their own. If this happens, no treatment is necessary. Larger stones may need treatment in order to pass.

What happens if these stones aren’t removed?

If a bladder or kidney stone isn’t removed, it can lead to infections, severe pain, and kidney damage in the case of kidney stones.

Bladder and kidney stones are made of concentrated minerals found in the urine. They’re solid masses found in the bladder and kidneys, respectively. In some cases, kidney stones can turn into bladder stones.

If the stone is small, it can pass without treatment. But if it gets bigger, it can block urine flow and cause complications such as infections.

Generally, bladder and kidney stones are treated with medication, devices that restore urine flow, or procedures that break up the stones. It may be possible to prevent bladder and kidney stones with simple lifestyle changes.