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Your bladder is an organ that is part of your body’s waste removal process. It is shaped like a sac, or balloon. Kidneys remove waste from your system. The remains are mixed with water called urine and go to your bladder. Urine is stored there until it fills up and you empty it. Urine leaves the bladder through the urethra. From there, it exits your body.
Sometimes your bladder does not empty out all the urine. The elements in urine can form crystals. These harden to create bladder stones. Bladder stones vary in size and form. They occur primarily in men.
Symptoms of bladder stones
Not everyone who has bladder stones will have symptoms. Two things can trigger symptoms. First, the stones can start to rub along your bladder lining. Second, the stones can block urine from leaving the bladder.
- Stomach pain or pressure.
- Cloudy or dark-colored urine.
- Blood in your urine.
- Frequent or painful urination.
- Trouble passing urine, or loss of urine control.
- For men, pain in your penis.
What causes bladder stones?
Most bladder stones form from minerals. These can be found in urine left over in your bladder. Common problems that lead to bladder stones include:
- Enlarged prostate. Men have a gland called the prostate. It forms around the urethra next to the bladder. When the prostate expands, it puts pressure on the urethra. This can cause a loss of urine flow from the bladder. Prostate enlargement occurs in a lot of men as they get older.
- Inflamed bladder. Certain infections can bother your bladder. The most common is a urinary tract infection (UTI). Radiation to your pelvic area is another possible cause.
- Nerve damage. Nerves tell you when your bladder is full and needs to empty. If your nerves are damaged, you can have issues with urine flow. Stroke and spinal cord injuries can damage your nerves.
- Bladder surgery. People who can’t control their urine flow may require surgery. This increase in the shape of your bladder can cause bladder stones.
- Cystocele. This is a condition in which a woman’s bladder wall weakens and drops. It creates pressure in the pelvic area. It can affect urine flow and lead to growth of bladder stones.
You also can develop bladder stones if your urine is too acidic, or concentrated. Rarely, foreign objects can get into your bladder. An example is a piece of a medical device used in surgery. These can cause bladder stones to form.
Kidney stones have similar symptoms as bladder stones. However, they are not the same thing. Kidney stones don’t always go away on their own. If they get stuck in the bladder, they can produce new stones there.
How are bladder stones diagnosed?
Medical care is needed to diagnose bladder stones. Your doctor will order tests to find the stones and determine the cause.
- Physical exam. Your doctor will check your stomach for pressure and pain. For men, they also may perform a rectal exam to check your prostate.
- Urine test. There are two ways to test your urine: a urine analysis (urinalysis) and a urine culture. You will provide a clean-catch urine sample. For this, you’ll use sterile wipes to first clean your penis or vagina to prevent germs from getting into your urine sample. The lab will check your urine for bacteria, blood, and signs of bladder stones. It also will check for infection, such as a UTI.
- X-ray. Your doctor might order an X-ray of your pelvic area. Some forms of bladder stones will be visible.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan. Not all bladder stones will show up on an X-ray. A CT scan might be done if the X-ray is negative.
- Urinary tract imaging. Your doctor will inject a special fluid in your veins. It will flow through your urinary tract. Once it reaches your organs, they will take an X-ray. The contrast of the liquid will better show bladder stones.
- Ultrasound. This will identify stones using sound instead of radiation.
- Cystoscopy. Your doctor might need a closer look inside your bladder. They will insert a small tube with a camera into your urethra. The exam will detect anything abnormal.
Can bladder stones be prevented or avoided?
Bladder stones that result from a related condition are hard to prevent. It helps to contact your doctor when you first have symptoms. Treat a UTI before bladder stones could form.
You can lower your risk of getting bladder stones by staying healthy. Make sure you drink a lot of water. Between 6 and 8 glasses is average. Ask your doctor what is best for you. Stay away from diets high in fat, salt, and sugar.
Avoid smoking and illegal drugs. Your kidneys can have a hard time getting rid of their bad chemicals. If the chemicals build up, bladder stones can form.
Bladder stones treatment
Some bladder stones will pass on their own. Drinking extra water will help them pass through your bladder with the urine. You can have some pain when the stones exit your body. Typically, this only works if you find them early or they are small enough.
In most cases, your doctor will need to remove them. There are two main ways they can do this. The most common way is to use a cystoscope. Your doctor will insert the small tube with a camera into your urethra. The camera will detect the bladder stones. Your doctor will use a laser or ultrasound to break up the stones. They also can use a medical device. Fluids will wash out the remaining pieces.
Sometimes the stones are too large to pass through the urethra. Your doctor will need to cut an opening near your pelvis. They will enter through the cut and remove the stones from your bladder. Surgery does require some form of anesthesia. You might have to stay in a hospital.
Living with bladder stones
After surgery, your doctor will check to make sure all stones are gone. They may repeat tests to confirm. They also might prescribe medicine to prevent any infection.
Based on the cause of your bladder stones, you might require more treatment. If your doctor finds a tumor in your bladder, they will check for cancer. The current clinical recommendation from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) does not include routine preventive screening for bladder cancer.
If you do not treat bladder stones, you can have lasting damage. This includes repeat UTIs or injury to your bladder, kidney, or urethra.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How do I know if I have kidney stones or bladder stones?
- If I have bladder stones once, am I more at risk of getting them again?
- What are my odds that a tumor causes bladder stones? What are my odds that the tumor is cancerous?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.