Bladder stones are hard clusters of minerals that form when concentrated urine crystallizes. They may develop if a patient has difficulty completely emptying their bladder.
Small stones may pass without treatment, but others may require medication or surgery.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones
Occasionally, bladder stones don’t cause problems. But if a stone irritates the bladder wall or blocks the flow of urine, patients may develop the following symptoms:
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain during urination
- Need to urinate frequently
- Difficulty urinating or interrupted urine flow
- Blood in the urine
- Cloudy or unusually dark-colored urine
Left untreated, bladder stones can lead to complications, which may include chronic bladder problems and urinary tract infections.
When the bladder doesn’t completely empty, the remaining concentrated urine may form bladder stones. Some infections and underlying conditions may lead to bladder stones. Foreign materials in the bladder may also cause the condition. The most common causes of bladder stones include:
- Prostate gland enlargement. Men can develop bladder stones if they have an enlarged prostate that obstructs the flow of urine and prevents the bladder from emptying completely.
- Damaged nerves. Nerves play an important role in bladder function, carrying messages from the brain to the bladder muscles and directing the tightening and release of the muscles. Damage to the nerves, caused by a stroke, spinal cord injury, or other health issue, may lead to a neurogenic bladder.
Bladder stones may also be caused by inflammation, medical devices, and kidney stones. Urinary tract infections or radiation therapy may cause bladder inflammation, leading to bladder stones. Mineral crystals may also form on bladder catheters, contraceptive devices, or urinary stents and grow into bladder stones.
Older men, ages 50 and over, are at greater risk of developing bladder stones. Men with an enlarged prostate or nerve damage can have difficulty fully emptying the bladder.
How Bladder Stones Are Diagnosed
Patients experiencing symptoms of bladder stones will need to undergo testing to diagnose their condition. A physician may order the following tests:
- Physical examination. The physician will feel the patient’s lower abdomen to check for visible enlargement of the bladder and perform a rectal exam, if necessary, to see if the prostate is enlarged.
- Urine test. A urine sample will be collected and analyzed for the presence of blood, bacteria, and crystallized minerals. The test will also help determine if the patient has a urinary tract infection, which could cause or be the result of bladder stones.
- CT scan. A CT scan will provide clear images of the bladder and show any bladder stones.
- Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create images of the bladder and any stones.
- X-ray. An X-ray of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder can help identify some types of bladder stones.
Small bladder stones may pass naturally if the patient drinks lots of water. If, however, the bladder stones are caused by difficulty emptying the bladder completely, the patient may need surgery.
While the patient is under general anesthesia, the surgeon will insert a small tube with a camera at the end into the bladder and use a laser, ultrasound, or other instrument to break the stone into smaller pieces.
Stones that are too large or difficult to break up may require surgical removal.