Doctor’s Orders: The Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Bladder Stones

They’re more common than you think and range from painful to not at all

benjamin voros 150135 Doctor’s Orders: The Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Bladder Stones

The primary cause of bladder stones is not completely emptying the bladder of urine. Benjamin Voros/Unsplash

All of us have heard of kidney stones, but what about bladder stones? Yes, stones can form in the bladder. They are much more common in men past the age of 50 but are much less common than kidney stones. If they are small enough, they may cause no symptoms when they pass out of the body on their own. Sometimes, a person might not even know they had any. But, unfortunately, more often than not, they make their appearance known by causing pain or other problems on urination.

What are bladder stones?

Bladder stones are hard masses of minerals in your bladder. The bladder’s job is to collect urine that comes down from the kidneys. As it fills up throughout the day, you get the urge to empty its contents. Generally, the bladder will be completely emptied, but there can be certain health issues that prevent that from happening. Urine left in the bladder after urination can develop into stones from minerals that crystallize in the concentrated urine.

Symptoms of bladder stones

The symptoms of bladder stones can vary from severe abdominal pain to blood in the urine. Sometimes there may be no signs of them whatsoever, and small bladder stones can pass unnoticed without treatment. However, if a stone is irritating the walls of the bladder or is blocking the flow of urine, the symptoms can include:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • In men, pain or discomfort in the penis or testicles
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating or an interruption of the urine flow
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cloudy or abnormally dark-colored urine

Causes of bladder stones

The primary cause of bladder stones is not completely emptying the bladder of urine. Other causes can be some infections or an underlying condition affecting the bladder’s ability to store and eliminate urine. Foreign materials in the bladder can also lead to bladder stone formation.

For men, prostate gland enlargement or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a common cause of bladder stones. When the prostate is enlarged, it can obstruct the flow of urine, preventing a complete elimination of the bladder.

A neurogenic bladder or nerve damage can be another cause of bladder stones. Nerves send messages to and from the brain and bladder telling the bladder muscles to tighten or release. When the nerves are damaged—from a stroke, spinal cord injury or other health problem—the bladder doesn’t receive the signal, so it won’t empty completely.

Other possible causes can include inflammation, medical devices (such as bladder catheters) that may cause crystals to form on the device, or kidney stones that may travel down the ureters into the bladder.

Diagnosis of bladder stones

To diagnosis bladder stones, the following procedures may be done:

  • A physical exam
  • CT of the bladder
  • Ultrasound
  • X-ray
  • Urinalysis (a urine sample) will be examined for amounts of blood, bacteria and crystallized minerals. This can also help determine if a urinary tract infection is the cause of the bladder stones.

Treatment and prevention of bladder stones

Most likely, bladder stones will need to be removed. This can be done with a procedure called a cystolitholapaxy, which will break up the stones into pieces small enough to pass in the urine. If a stone is too large or hard to break up, they can be removed surgically.

To decrease your odds of developing bladder stones, drink plenty of fluids—especially water, which will dilute the concentration of minerals in the bladder. The amount of water to drink depends on your age, size, health and level of activity. Generally, you’re drinking enough fluids when your urine is clear.

Finally, each time you urinate, make sure to empty the bladder as thoroughly as possible.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook.