What Are Bladder Stones?

It may sound a little odd, but you really can get stones in your bladder. They’re hard little masses made up of minerals from your urine. They’re most common in men 50 and older.

Sometimes, they don’t cause any symptoms and pass out of your body on their own. You may never even know you had one. But more often, they cause pain or other problems when you pee. When that happens, you have to get them removed.

What Causes Them?

Your bladder’s job is to collect urine from your kidneys until you need to pee it out. Once you do, your bladder should be empty. But some health issues can prevent that from happening, and you end up with urine left in your bladder. Then, some of the substances in the urine start to stick together and form crystals until they form a bladder stone.

There are a number of issues that can stop your bladder from emptying. The two most common are:

  • Larger-than-usual prostate. Only men have prostates -- it’s an organ that helps make semen. As men age, the prostate usually gets bigger and can squeeze the urethra, the tube that carries pee out of the body. When that happens, it’s like a kink in a hose -- pee doesn’t flow as well, which makes it hard for the bladder to empty.
  • Nerve damage. Also called neurogenic bladder, it means your bladder’s nerves don’t work like they normally would. This can lead to urine left in there.

There are a number of other things that can lead to problems with emptying your bladder:

  • Bladder augmentation surgery. Some people get this to help with a problem called incontinence, where you can’t control when you pee. This surgery can make you more likely to get bladder stones.
  • Bladder diverticula. These are small sacs that form in your bladder. Some people are born with them, while others get them from infections or a prostate issue.
  • Bladder swelling. You may get this from a urinary tract infection.
  • Cystocele. This happens only in women. Part of the bladder wall gets weak and drops into the vagina, which can block the flow of urine.
  • Diet. A diet high in fat, sugar, and salt that also lacks vitamins A and B can raise your chance of getting bladder stones, though this is more common in developing countries.
  • Kidney stones. They’re different from bladder stones, but a small kidney stone could move from your kidney into your bladder and grow.
  • Medical devices. The crystals that lead to stones can form on medical devices, such as a catheter, a thin tube that helps drain your bladder.

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Symptoms

Some bladder stones don’t cause any problems. But most of the time, they’ll bother the walls of your bladder or block urine from getting out. When that happens, you might:

  • Have blood in your urine
  • Feel burning or pain when you pee
  • Find it hard to pee, or that you’re going in stops and starts
  • Have pain in your lower belly -- and for men, in your penis and testicles
  • Go more than usual, especially at night
  • See urine that’s cloudy or darker than normal

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and start with a physical exam, feeling your lower belly to check your bladder. You may then have:

  • Cystoscopy. Your doctor places a small tube with a camera -- a cystoscope -- in your urethra and sends it up to your bladder to look for stones.
  • Imaging. This can help find the location and size of any bladder stones and look to see whether urine is blocked anywhere. Your doctor might use CT, X-ray, or ultrasound.
  • Urine test. Your doctor will check your urine for anything unusual and to see whether you might have a urinary tract infection.

Treatments

If you have small bladder stones, you might be able to drink a lot of water to get them to pass through on their own. But if you can’t empty your bladder, this may not work.

If they don’t pass on their own, your doctor may suggest:

Breaking the stones into pieces. This is a procedure called cystolitholapaxy. Your doctor first does a cystoscopy to find the stones. Then, she uses ultrasound, laser, or some other tool through the cystoscope to break up the stones and flush out the tiny pieces.

Surgery. If the stones are too large to break up, you may need to have surgery to open your bladder and remove them.

Can I Prevent Them?

Ideally, you prevent them by treating the cause of the bladder stones. That’s not always possible, but there are some options:

  • Bladder diverticula: You could get surgery to remove them. Treating an enlarged prostate may sometimes prevent the diverticula from forming in the first place.
  • Men with a larger-than-usual prostate: Medicine or surgery may help.
  • Nerve damage: Medicine or a different catheter could make bladders stones less likely.
  • Women with cystocele: Surgery may be needed to support the bladder and other pelvic organs.

Aside from that, make sure to drink plenty of water to help keep the minerals in your urine from turning into crystals and forming bladder stones. Ask your doctor how much you should drink each day.

And be sure to check with your doctor if you have any problems peeing, such as pain, stopping and starting over and over, or peeing too often.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on December 11, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

RadiologyInfo.Org: “Kidney and Bladder Stones.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Bladder Stones.”

Mayo Clinic: “Bladder Stones.”

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease: “The Urinary Tract and How It Works.”

PubMed: “How does the prostate work?”

UpToDate: “Pelvic organ prolapse in women”

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