Also called bladder calculi, bladder stones are mineral build-ups that form in the bladder, usually as a secondary urologic condition caused by a urinary tract infection or enlarged prostate. Bladder stones form when stagnated urine in the bladder becomes concentrated. Minerals in the concentrated urine then crystallize into a mass. When the mass rubs against the lining of the bladder or obstructs urination, the symptoms become recognizable. Bladder stones mainly affect men.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones
Although some people may not experience any symptoms of bladder stones, the most common include:
- Need to urinate frequently
- Pain during urination
- Urine flow interruption
- Blood in the urine
- Unusually dark colored urine
- Urgency or incontinence
- In men, penile discomfort
- Pain in the lower abdomen
Causes and Risk Factors of Bladder Stones
Other conditions that may cause bladder stones include:
- Bladder diverticulum (a weakened area in the bladder resulting in the formation of a bulging pouch)
- Neurogenic bladder (nerves that carry signals from the brain to the bladder to regulate bladder muscles are damaged)
- Enlarged prostate (compressing the urethra and interrupting flow, causing it to stagnate in the bladder)
- Inflammation caused by a urinary tract infection can cause bladder stones
Bladder stones are found mainly in populations of the Far East, Middle East and North Africa.
Diagnosing Bladder Stones
A physician will perform the following tests to diagnose bladder stones:
- Urinalysis and culture
- Lower abdominal check for bladder distension
- Bladder or pelvic X-ray or imaging
- Cytoscopy (cystolitholapaxy): a small tube with a camera (cytoscope) is inserted into the bladder through the urethra to see inside the bladder and any stones which might be there. Regional or general anesthesia is usually used.
- Intravenous pyelogram: dye is used to highlight the urinary organs when an X-ray is taken.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
Treating Bladder Stones
Although most bladder stones must be removed, the patient can try increasing urinary production by drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water or more per day, which may help the stones pass out of the body naturally.
Removal of bladder stones can be accomplished with a cytoscope, through extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), which breaks up stones using ultrasonic waves, or by traditional open surgery.
Since bladder stones are generally secondary conditions, if the underlying cause of the stones is not addressed, the problem may recur. Untreated stones may also cause urinary tract infections or damage to the kidneys or bladder.