Bladder stones are hard lumps of minerals that can form inside the bladder, the pouch that stores concentrated urine, when it isn’t fully emptied. The minerals in the leftover urine can crystallize and get hardened over time to become bladder stones.
Small clumps can flush out during urination while larger ones can get stuck in the passage of the bladder and might need medical interventions to dissolve or dislodge.
Most people suffering from bladder stones might experience symptoms since the stones can irritate the walls of the bladder or block the passage of urine. The most typical symptoms include:
- Painful urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Difficulty in urinating or interrupted urine flow
- Blood in urine
- Colour change or cloudy urine
- Frequent urge to urinate
Usually, the stones form when the bladder is not emptying completely. However, there are several factors that can add up to cause this. These may be:
- The enlargement of the prostate, located between the penis and bladder, can put pressure on the urethra and block it to cause incomplete emptying of the bladder
- Nerves that control the bladder can get damaged and prevent the complete emptying of the urine
- Weak bladder walls that cannot shrink to create pressure to move out the urine in the bladder
- Bladder augmentation surgery
- A diet high in fats, sugar and salt, and low in vitamin A and B, can increase the risk of forming bladder stones if not enough water is consumed
The diagnosis involves a physical examination, along with laboratory and imaging tests to evaluate size and location of stones in the bladder.
- A physical examination for diagnosing bladder stones will include examination of symptoms, auscultation (listening to abdominal sounds with the use of a stethoscope) or a rectal exam
- Laboratory analysis of urine
- An ultrasound examination to evaluate the size and location of the stones in the bladder
- An X-ray of the lower abdomen can show bladder stones
Drinking lots of water to flush the stones through urination can help, but usually the underlying condition not allowing the full emptying the bladder needs to be addressed. The surgical removal of stones is usually the best approach. The most common surgical approaches are:
- Transurethral cystolitholapaxy – a method that uses a device to break the stone into smaller particles that can then pass through the urethra and be passed through urine
- Open cystostomy or percutaneous suprapubic cystolitholapaxy – a method adopted for larger bladder stones where a small incision is made in the lower abdomen and bladder to remove the stones.