Bladder stone basics

Bladder stone basics - Dr. David Samadi

Bladder stones are not often heard of as they are not nearly as common as kidney stones.  Sometimes referred to as urinary tract stones or bladder calculi, they primarily affect men as 95% of all bladder stones cases are found in men.

What are bladder stones?

Bladder stones are formed when substances such as calcium oxalate concentrate in the urine turning into hard, solid lumps lodging in the bladder.  It is more common to have several stones form at the same time. 

Urine is about 95% water with the other 5% containing minerals such as salt, and waste products such as protein.  When the urine is concentrated, often due to lack of water or dehydration or not being able to completely empty the bladder, the color of urine can vary from dark amber to brown depending on the types of waste and minerals it contains.

If a man is unable to completely empty his bladder, this may be due to an enlarged prostate, bladder problems, or a urinary tract infection. 

Bladder stones usually don’t cause complications as they are normally fairly small and are get excreted in the urine. But if the stones become trapped in the neck of the bladder with residue in the urine accumulating, they can grow large enough to cause symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of bladder stones include:

·         Frequent urination, especially during the night

·         Lower abdominal pain

·         A burning sensation or pain in the urethra when urinating

·         Urine that contains blood or appears cloudy

·         Inability to control urination

Risk factors for bladder stones

·         Men, especially older men in their 80s or older have a higher risk than younger men

·         Men who eat diets rich in fat and sugar

·         Children living in developing countries with poor access to water to stay hydrated

Causes of bladder stones

There are many causes that can lead to formation of bladder stones.  One of the most common reasons is when the neck of the bladder is obstructed due to prostate enlargement

Other causes include:

·         Bladder or urinary infections

·         A damaged urethra due to injury or from an illness, disease or trauma.

·         Neurogenic bladder – a condition in which there is damage to the nerves preventing your brain from telling your bladder’s muscles to contract and expand in order to urinate. When this happens, urine remains in the bladder and stones can form.

·         Weak bladder called bladder diverticulum - if the walls of the bladder become weak, pouches can bulge outward where urine can collect and be stored in these pouches.

·         Kidney stones – Stones from the kidney can travel down the ureters, two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder that may become bladder stones when they reach the bladder. 

·         A diet high in oxalic acid found in rhubarb, leafy vegetables, and coffee

Diagnosing bladder stones

A physician will conduct a thorough exam including a rectal exam and a lower abdominal check.  Samples of urine will be collected with a urinalysis to analyze the sample.  An x-ray, ultrasound, CT scan or cystoscopy may also be used to locate the stones.

Treatment

Depending on the size and location of the stones will determine the treatment.  If there is any pain involved due to the stones, the doctor may prescribe narcotic analgesics and antibiotics to treat an infection.

Small stones can be removed through a cystoscope.  This is a tube inserted through the urethra allowing the doctor to view the stones.  This same device can be used to crush the stones and then washed away. 

Larger stones are treated with extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy that uses sound waves to pulverize the stones.  If the stones are not responding, then on very rare occasions, they may require surgical removal.

The good news is most bladder stones will pass on their own. 

Preventing bladder stones

The main way to prevent bladder stones is primarily by watching your diet.  First, drink at least eight glasses of water each day.  Avoiding meat, eggs, and animal fats as well as processed and fried foods can also help bladder stones from developing. 

If a person has a urinary tract infection, get it treated right away. 

Any symptoms associated with bladder stones should be diagnosed by a doctor as soon as possible.  If they are left untreated, stones may cause repeated urinary tract infections or permanent damage to the bladder or kidneys.