Bladder stones are formed when concentrated urine hardens in the bladder after passing out urine, forming crystallized minerals. About 90% of urine is composed of water, the rest contains minerals, such as salt and protein.
Concentrated urine is often caused by dehydration or the inability to empty your bladder completely. This may be caused by bladder problems, enlarged prostate, or urinary tract infections (UTIs). Bladder stones can lead to severe infections and other health complications.
Symptoms of bladder stones
Symptoms of bladder stones include:
- lower abdominal pain
- bloody or cloudy urine
- urinating frequently, especially at night
- a burning sensation in the urethra when urinating
- incontinence, or an inability to control urination
Causes of bladder stones
The formation of bladder stones may be a secondary symptom of an underlying urinary tract problem. Conditions that may contribute to bladder stones include:
A person’s urethra can be damaged from disease or trauma. It may narrow due to infection and block the flow of urine leaving your body.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs), are a common cause of bladder stones. Bacteria and other organisms can cause bladder infections. Though men develop more bladder stones, but women have more bladder infections than men because women have shorter urethras, so there’s a shorter path for bacteria to gain access to the bladder.
Bladder stones can equally be caused by small stones that form in your kidneys and travel down the ureters. Kidney stones differ in their development, and they may become bladder stones when they reach the bladder.
Small kidney stones may pass painlessly through your urine, but larger ones may be removed by a doctor.
Enlarged prostate gland
Your prostate gland surrounds your urethra (the thin tube that transports urine from your bladder during urination). When the prostate gland enlarges, it can press against the urethra and obstruct urination.
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The walls of your bladder may become weak in some areas and form pouches that protrude outward. Urine can gather and store in these pouches.
Diagnosing bladder stones
Consult your doctor if you have complications with urination or any of the symptoms associated with bladder stones. They’ll likely give you a physical exam prior to other diagnostic tests. Diagnostic tests may include:
Urinalysis: To test your urine for crystallization, infection, and other abnormalities.
Spiral CT scan: Checks for complications in the bladder or anywhere else in the body. It’s more accurate than a CT scan.
Ultrasound: This uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. These images will help your doctor see if stones are present in your bladder.
X-rays: X-rays show the inside of the bladder and most abnormalities that may be present. This can be done using intravenous pyelogram, which involves a dye injected into your veins that flows through your blood vessels until it reaches your bladder. The dye points out any strange formations.
Treating bladder stones
If diagnosis shows presence of bladder stones, your doctor may perform a cystolitholapaxy which involves the use of laser energy or ultrasound waves to break stones down into smaller pieces for removal.
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Who is at risk for bladder stones?
Most people who develop bladder stones are older men with prostate problems. Men in their 80s have a much higher risk than younger men. Children in developing countries are also prone to bladder stones because they don’t have access to enough water to stay hydrated.