Bladder stones, a condition that develops when minerals in the urine crystallize, are similar in some ways to kidney stones, but they are not the same. In some situations, bladder stones won’t present any symptoms or will pass naturally without treatment. In other cases, bladder stones can cause problems that require medication or surgery. They can also lead to infections and other complications if left untreated.
Symptoms and Complications
Sometimes, even large bladder stones won’t cause symptoms. In cases where a stone interferes with the bladder, however—by irritating the bladder wall or impeding the flow of urine out of the bladder—there can be noticeable symptoms. These include:
- Burning sensation during urination
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Frequent need to urinate
- Blood or a cloudy, dark coloration in urine
- Trouble urinating or urine flow that’s frequently interrupted
- Pain in the penis or testicles (for men)
Additional complications that can result if bladder stones aren’t eliminated from the body—even in cases where the stones aren’t causing noticeable symptoms. These complications can include:
- Urinary Tract Infections These recurring infections can be caused by bladder stones.
- Chronic bladder dysfunction: This refers to painful urination, frequent urination and blockages of urinary passages. Bladder stones can cause these problems to become chronic.
Causes and Risk Factors
In most cases, bladder stones start to form if the bladder doesn’t fully empty itself during urination. Minerals left in the urine then form crystals, which create the stones. In other cases, infections or underlying conditions may be a cause. A couple of the most common conditions that can lead to bladder stones include:
- Prostate gland enlargement: Also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, this condition is characterized by an enlarged prostate that blocks the flow of urine and prevents the bladder from emptying completely.
- Nerve damage: This involves damage to the nerves that send signals from your brain to the bladder, telling it when to tighten and release. It can be caused by spinal cord injuries, strokes or other events.
Other causes of bladder stones include:
- Medical devices or foreign objects: Catheters inserted into the urethra to help with urination can cause bladder stones, as can other foreign objects that make their way into the bladder. These include contraceptive devices or urinary stents. Crystals often form on the surface of these foreign objects.
- Inflammation: Bladder inflammation can be caused by a variety of events, and can lead to bladder stones.
- Kidney stones: Kidney stones and bladder stones are not the same, and they develop in different ways within the body. In some cases, though, small kidney stones can make their way from the ureters into the bladder and become bladder stones.
A few factors can raise your general risk of bladder stones:
- Living in a developing country (for children): Due to elements like infection, dehydration and low protein in the diet, children in developing countries are at a higher risk of bladder stones. This is abnormal, as adults usually develop bladder stones in most other parts of the world.
- Bladder outlet obstruction: This refers to any condition that blocks urine flow from from the bladder to the urethra.
- Neurogenic bladder: Several conditions or injuries, including strokes, diabetes, herniated disks and others can damage the nerves that control the bladder and lead to bladder stones.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing bladder stones may involve one of a few different tests, depending on your symptoms and history. Once they’ve been identified, the primary goal of treatment is usually removing the stones. In some cases, this can be done naturally—your doctor will recommend staying hydrated and attempting to pass a stone without any additional help. In cases where this isn’t effective, treatment options include:
- Cystolitholapaxy: This is a procedure in which stones are broken into small pieces using a laser or ultrasound device. The pieces are then flushed into the bladder and passed. This treatment uses anesthetic, and may cause rare complications including fever or infection.
- Removal: In cases where stones are too large or dense to break up, they’ll be removed through surgery via a direct incision.
Bladder Stone Prevention
Preventing bladder stones can be difficult if they are caused by certain underlying conditions, but you can take other steps to decrease your risk:
- Be proactive: Asking your doctor about any unusual urinary symptoms you have can make a big difference. Locating and diagnosing conditions like an enlarged prostate can lower risk of resulting bladder stones.
- Stay hydrated: Proper hydration helps prevent bladder stones by diluting the concentration of minerals in the bladder.
If you’re developing symptoms of bladder stones, speak to your doctor about treatment.
Revere Health Urology specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of urologic cancers, BPH, incontinence and vasectomies as well as pediatric and adult urinary problems.
“Bladder stones.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bladder-stones/home/ovc-20233501
“Bladder Stones: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments.” Medical News Today. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/184998.php