What are they?
Bladder stones are small, hard, masses of minerals that form in the bladder.
What’s the cause?
Bladder stones usually develop when a patient’s urine is very concentrated. Concentrated urine can happen due to dehydration or if an individual is unable to empty their bladder completely. (1) This gives the minerals found in urine an opportunity to crystallize and form stones.
Who gets them?
In the U.S. bladder stones occur primarily in adults, and can affect both men and women. (1)
Individuals who have preexisting bladder or urological conditions may be at an increased risk for developing bladder stones. For instance, bladder outlet obstruction, sometimes caused by an enlarged prostate, can heighten the risk for an individual to form bladder stones.
Sometimes health issues or injuries can cause damage to the nerves that control bladder function. Known as a neurogenic bladder, this can also lead to secondary complications like bladder stones. (1)
If a patient has a foreign body in the bladder, like a catheter, minerals can attach themselves to the object and eventually form stones. In addition, inflammation of the bladder, which can result from recurrent UTIs, may also lead to bladder stone development.
What are the symptoms?
As with most urological conditions, symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Some patients have no noticeable physical symptoms that indicate bladder stones. Others, can experience any or all of the following (1):
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Difficulty with urination, including: increased frequency, pain or burning
- Blood in the urine
- Dark or cloudy urine
- In men, pain in the penis or testicles
How are bladder stones diagnosed?
Your urologist may use a combination of tests to determine if you’ve got bladder stones. For example, he or she might order an analysis of your urine, x-rays, CT scans and/or ultrasound.
These tests will inform your physician about the size, number, and location of any bladder stones that are present.
What’s the treatment for bladder stones?
In some cases a bladder stone is small enough that it can pass on its own as a result of increased fluid intake. (2)
Unfortunately, in order to be passed most bladder stones require some level of medical intervention . In some cases, a urologist can intervene in a minimally invasive way by entering the urethra with a scope. The surgeon can then break up larger stones using a laser, ultrasound or other mechanical device. (1) However, sometimes more invasive surgical removal is necessary. If this is the case, the urological surgeon will make an incision directly into the bladder to physically remove the stone.
When bladder stones are a secondary symptom of an existing condition, the original condition will also need to be treated to prevent recurrence. For example, if a patient has an enlarged prostate.
Can you prevent bladder stones?
You can’t prevent all bladder stones. However, simple lifestyle changes like staying properly hydrated, and regularly (and completely) emptying the bladder can help.
Your urologist will be able to work with you to help pinpoint the underlying cause of your bladder stones. From there, you will better understand if anything can prevent additional stones from developing.