A urinary bladder stone is a common condition that affects many people worldwide. These stones are usually made up of calcium oxalate, uric acid, or other minerals that build up in the bladder over time. The size of these stones can vary from tiny pebbles to larger stones that can cause severe pain and discomfort. While they can occur in anyone, bladder stones are most common in men over the age of 50.
What Causes Bladder Stones?
The primary cause of bladder stones is urine retention in the bladder, which allows substances to crystallize and form stones. There are several reasons why urine may not empty from the bladder properly, leading to the formation of bladder stones. The two most common causes are:
- Enlarged prostate gland: The prostate gland, found only in men, produces semen. As men age, the prostate gland often grows larger, making it difficult to urinate. Urine remaining in the bladder can then crystallize and form stones.
- Nerve damage: When the nerves that control the bladder do not function properly, the bladder may not empty completely. This condition is called neurogenic bladder and can lead to bladder stones.
In addition to an enlarged prostate and nerve damage, there are several other factors that can contribute to bladder stones by preventing proper bladder emptying. They are:
- Bladder augmentation surgery is a procedure used to help with incontinence, where you can’t control when you pee. Unfortunately, this surgery can increase the likelihood of bladder stones formation.
- Bladder diverticula are small sacs that can form in your bladder. Some people are born with them, while others develop them due to infections or prostate issues. They can contribute to bladder stones by trapping urine and allowing crystals to form.
- Bladder swelling, which can occur as a result of a urinary tract infection, can also lead to bladder stones.
- Cystocele is a condition that affects only women, in which, the part of the bladder wall weakens and drops into the vagina, causing a blockage of urine flow.
- Diet is also a contributing factor to bladder stone formation, especially in developing countries where a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt is more common.
- Kidney stones are different from bladder stones, but a small kidney stone can move from the kidney into the bladder and continue to grow, contributing to the formation of bladder stones.
- Finally, medical devices such as catheters, which are thin tubes used to help drain urine from the bladder, can lead to the formation of crystals that contribute to bladder stones.
What are the Symptoms of Bladder Stones?
Sometimes bladder stones are asymptomatic and can pass out of the body unnoticed. However, more often, they can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including painful urination, lower abdominal pain, frequent urination, difficulty urinating, and blood in the urine. If left untreated, bladder stones can lead to urinary tract infections and chronic bladder inflammation.
How Are Bladder Stones Diagnosed?
If you experience symptoms of bladder stones, such as pain during urination or a frequent need to urinate, your doctor will likely start with a physical examination. During this exam, your doctor will feel your lower belly to check your bladder and identify any swelling, or tenderness.
To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor may perform a cystoscopy, which involves inserting a small tube with a camera called a cystoscope into your urethra and guiding it up to your bladder to look for stones. This procedure is typically performed under local anesthesia and can cause some discomfort, but it is generally safe and minimally invasive.
Imaging tests, such as CT, X-ray, or ultrasound, may also be used to identify the size, location, and number of bladder stones, as well as to check whether urine is blocked anywhere in your urinary tract. These tests can help your doctor determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you.
Additionally, your doctor may request a urine test to check for any signs of infection or other abnormalities that may be contributing to your symptoms. Depending on the results, further testing or treatment may be recommended.
How Are Bladder Stones Treated?
If you have bladder stones, the right treatment for you will depend on the size and location of the stones, as well as your overall health. Small stones may be able to pass through on their own, but larger stones may require medical intervention.
One option for breaking up bladder stones is a procedure called cystolitholapaxy. During this procedure, your doctor will use a cystoscope to locate the stones and then break them up using ultrasound, laser, or another tool. Once the stones are broken up, the tiny pieces will be flushed out of your body naturally.
In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the stones. This is especially true if the stones are too large to break up or if they are causing serious complications, such as damage to your bladder or urinary tract.
Prevention is key when it comes to bladder stones. Staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of developing bladder stones. It’s also important to practice good hygiene and urinate regularly to help flush out any potential mineral buildup.
If you have bladder stones, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Your doctor can recommend the best course of treatment for your individual needs, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, or other interventions. With the right treatment, most people with bladder stones are able to recover fully and avoid future complications.