Bladder stones are small, hard masses of minerals that develop in the bladder when the urine in the bladder becomes too concentrated. The concentrated urine causes minerals to crystallize and form these masses. Additionally, stagnant urine, or urine that remains in the bladder for long periods of time, also leads to the formation of crystals.
Concentrated urine is made up of less water, more waste product and can appear to have a dark brown color. Concentrated urine can be the result of dehydration or not being able to empty the bladder completely, which is a symptom of such conditions as enlarged prostate, a urinary tract infection, or another bladder problem.
In men, enlarged prostate/BPH is often the number one contributor to the development of bladder stones.
Symptoms of Bladder Stones
Some people may have no symptoms of bladder stones while others may exhibit symptoms that can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Hematuria (blood in the urine)
- Frequent urination
- Pain when urinating
Causes of Bladder Stones
There are several conditions that can contribute to the formation of bladder stones including:
- Enlarged prostate – Enlarged prostate or BPH is a common condition in men as they age and is usually the number one cause of bladder stones in men. The enlarged prostate gland squeezes the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder outside of the body) so that it interferes with normal urination. Men with an enlarged prostate often experience urinary retention and difficulty urinating. Urine remaining in the bladder can lead to the formation of bladder stones.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) – Bacteria that cause a urinary tract infection can also cause bladder stones to form. Individuals with UTIs also have difficulty urinating and completely emptying the bladder, leading to stagnant urine and the potential to form crystals and/or stones within the bladder.
- Neurogenic bladder – Conditions or abnormalities of the nervous system such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, as well as congenital birth defects such as spina bifida, adversely affect normal bladder function, causing the complex bladder condition called neurogenic bladder. This condition affects the nerves that carry signals from the brain to the bladder. Signals that tell the bladder that it is full or that it is time to empty do not work. This leads to urine remaining in the bladder and the formation of stones.
Diagnosing Bladder Stones
Individuals who present with symptoms will be evaluated by one of UAR’s experienced stone disease specialists. Your urologist may order specific diagnostic tests including:
- Urinalysis – Checks the urine for infection or crystallization
- CT scan – An imaging study that can check for abnormalities in the bladder
- Ultrasound – An imaging test that uses sound waves to create images of the inside of the bladder
- X-Ray – An imaging test that shows the inside of the bladder, but may not be as accurate in showing all stones in the bladder
- Intravenous Pyelogram – A test where dye is injected and flows into the blood vessels that lead to the bladder. The dye highlights abnormalities inside of the bladder, including stones, and an X-ray is then taken.
Treating Bladder Stones
Getting urine to flow normally from the bladder is the most important treatment for bladder stones. The most common underlying cause of bladder stones is an enlarged prostate or BPH. Men with enlarged prostate should be treated accordingly to alleviate urinary symptoms that can lead to the formation of bladder stones. Once the enlarged prostate is treated and normal urination resumes, small bladder stones can usually be passed and will often not recur.
For those whose stones are caused by infection such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) that causes urine to remain in the bladder, treatment with a course of oral antibiotics can clear the infection so normal urination can resume.
Your urologist will determine the underlying cause of your bladder stones and recommend a course of action that is in line with your medical history.