Bladder stones are crystallized minerals that develop due to a high concentration of certain minerals and substances in the urinary tract, in addition to incomplete bladder emptying. The kidneys are responsible for filtering out waste from the bloodstream, which then passes through ureters and enters the bladder to be eliminated from the body with urination. When minerals are not properly expelled during this process, the build-up can crystallize into what are called bladder stones.
Signs and Symptoms of Bladder Stones
Bladder stones generally consist of crystallized uric acid, calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate, struvite, or other substances. If an individual cannot empty the bladder properly, these materials may build up inside the bladder, leading to the formation of bladder stones. Also, urinary stones may form as a result of urine that remains in the bladder due to failure to completely empty the bladder, inflammation of the urinary tract, or use of a bladder catheter. In this instance, the remaining substances in the urine crystallize, resulting in the formation of bladder stones.
Bladder stone patients may experience no symptoms at all or one or more of the following symptoms:
- Painful urination
- Blood in urine
- Cloudy or dark urine
- Lower abdominal pain
- Frequent urination
- Urgent sense to urinate
- Difficulty controlling urine flow
Not every patient will experience signs or symptoms of bladder stones, even if the stones are large. The stones have to cause irritation or block the flow of urine for the symptoms to develop.
What causes Bladder stones?
Bladder stones are typically comprised of crystallized uric acid, calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate, struvite, or other substances. If an individual cannot empty the bladder properly, these materials may build up inside the bladder, leading to the formation of bladder stones.
This build-up of minerals or substances generally occurs when an individual cannot fully empty their bladder, however, it is not uncommon that other underlying conditions may contribute to an individual’s inability to urinate. These conditions may include:
- Enlarged Prostate Gland – Whether caused by prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia, an enlarged prostate can interfere with urine flow, causing urine to remain in the body longer, where it can form crystallized stones.
- Neurogenic Bladder (Damaged Nerves) – If the nerves that control the bladder muscles are damaged, it may be difficult for a patient to fully urinate. The nerve damage can be caused by a stroke, spinal cord injury, or other health condition.
- Urinary Tract Infections – When the urinary tract is infected, the urethra becomes inflamed and swollen, interfering with urine flow. Additionally, many patients find it too painful to urinate during an infection and may avoid it for as long as possible.
- Radiation Therapy – Undergoing radiation therapy in the pelvic area can cause inflammation and swelling, which can block the urethra and dissuade patients from urinating.
- Kidney Stones – Stones that crystallize in the kidney can develop from different causes, however, these stones may travel into the bladder and grow even larger.
- Medical Devices – When using a catheter, some patients may not be able to completely drain the urine, leaving small amounts behind that can crystallize.
- Bladder Diverticula – Small pouches can develop in the bladder wall as a result of nerve damage, urinary blockage, congenital factors or other health condition, which can collect urine and prevent it from passing out through the urethra.
Treating Bladder Stones
The expert urologists at Comprehensive Urology offer a wide variety of treatments for breaking up, removing, or bypassing bladder stones. Depending on the size of the stone, some patients may be able to safely pass the stones without medical treatment, however, some patients may need the following:
Extra-Corporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy (ESWL) – Using an x-ray, our urologists can locate stones and then break them up with shock waves from a lithotriptor. The device can be safely used from outside the body and can successfully break up the crystallized mass into small enough pieces that can be passed through the urinary tract.
Transurethral Cystolitholapaxy – Using a long, thin fiber-optic instrument, our urologists can enter through the urethra and locate bladder stones and remove them with a laser and/or small scooping basket through the urethra.
Percutaneous Suprapubic Cystolitholapaxy – When a stone is too large to be broken up with transurethral methods or when treating young children, it may be necessary to make a small incision in the patient’s lower abdominal wall to use larger instruments to break up the mass. An indwelling catheter may be placed to assist with urination.
Open Suprapubic Cystolitholapaxy – In cases where bladder stones are too large to break up or remove with minimally-invasive methods, or when another surgery is necessary, such as a prostatectomy or treatment of bladder diverticulum. An incision is made in the lower abdomen and then into the bladder to remove the masses. An indwelling catheter may be placed, as well as a possible second catheter in the lower abdomen (suprapubic tube) until the bladder heals.
Bladder stones vs Kidney Stones
How do Bladder Stones Differ from Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones develop due to tiny crystals in an individual’s urine. When the urine becomes concentrated, these crystals coalesce, which results in hard deposits. The deposits then may start to move around the kidney. Or, they eventually may pass into the ureter and bladder. Once in the bladder, they should normally leave the body at the time of urination because the urethra is much larger than the ureter and they should pass without a problem.
Bladder stones generally consist of crystallized uric acid, calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate, struvite, or other substances in the setting of incomplete bladder emptying. If one cannot evacuate urine from the bladder properly, these materials may build up inside the bladder, leading to the formation of large or multiple bladder stones. In other words, the presence of bladder stones should automatically trigger an assessment of bladder drainage adequacy.