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Bladder stones

Bladder stones are hard masses of minerals in your bladder. Bladder stones develop when urine in your bladder becomes concentrated, causing minerals in your urine to crystallize. Concentrated, stagnant urine is often the result of not being able to completely empty your bladder.

Bladder stones don't always cause signs or symptoms and may be discovered during tests for other problems. When symptoms do occur, they can range from abdominal pain to blood in your urine.

Small bladder stones sometimes pass on their own, but you may need to have others removed by your doctor. Left untreated, bladder stones can cause infections and other complications.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Some people with bladder stones have no problems — even when their stones are large. But if a stone irritates the bladder wall or blocks the flow of urine, signs and symptoms can develop. These include:

  • Lower abdominal pain
  • In men, pain or discomfort in the penis
  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Difficulty urinating or interruption of urine flow
  • Blood in your urine
  • Cloudy or abnormally dark-colored urine

Bladder stones generally begin when your bladder doesn't empty completely. The urine that's left in your bladder can form crystals that eventually become bladder stones. In most cases, an underlying condition affects your bladder's ability to empty completely.

The most common conditions that cause bladder stones include:

  • Prostate gland enlargement. An enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), can cause bladder stones in men. As the prostate enlarges, it can compress the urethra and interrupt urine flow, causing urine to remain in your bladder.
  • Damaged nerves (neurogenic bladder). Normally, nerves carry messages from your brain to your bladder muscles, directing your bladder muscles to tighten or release. If these nerves are damaged — from a stroke, spinal cord injury or other health problem — your bladder may not empty completely.

Other conditions that can cause bladder stones include:

  • Inflammation. Bladder stones can develop if your bladder becomes inflamed. Urinary tract infections and radiation therapy to your pelvic area can both cause bladder inflammation.
  • Medical devices. Occasionally, bladder catheters — slender tubes inserted through the urethra to help urine drain from your bladder — can cause bladder stones. So can objects that accidentally migrate to your bladder, such as a contraceptive device or stent. Mineral crystals, which later become stones, tend to form on the surface of these devices.
  • Kidney stones. Stones that form in your kidneys are not the same as bladder stones. They develop in different ways and often for different reasons. But small kidney stones occasionally travel down the ureters into your bladder and, if not expelled, can grow into bladder stones.

In developing nations, bladder stones are common in children — often because of dehydration, infection and a low-protein diet. In other parts of the world, bladder stones occur primarily in adults, especially in men age 30 and older.

Conditions that contribute to your risk of bladder stones include:

  • Bladder outlet obstruction. Bladder outlet obstruction refers to any condition that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder to the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body. Bladder outlet obstruction has many causes, but the most common is an enlarged prostate.
  • Neurogenic bladder. Stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, a herniated disk and a number of other problems can damage the nerves that control bladder function. Some people with neurogenic bladder may also have an enlarged prostate or other type of bladder outlet obstruction, which further increases the risk of stones.

Bladder stones that aren't removed — even those that don't cause symptoms — can lead to complications, such as:

  • Chronic bladder dysfunction. Left untreated, bladder stones can cause long-term urinary problems, such as pain or frequent urination. Bladder stones can also lodge in the opening where urine exits the bladder into the urethra and block the passage of urine from your body.
  • Urinary tract infections. Recurring bacterial infections in your urinary tract may be caused by bladder stones.

Bladder stones usually result from an underlying condition that's hard to prevent, but you can decrease your chance of developing bladder stones by following these tips:

  • Ask about unusual urinary symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment of an enlarged prostate or another urological condition may reduce your risk of developing bladder stones.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drinking more fluids, especially water, may help prevent bladder stones because fluids dilute the concentration of minerals in your bladder. How much water you should drink depends on your age, size, health and level of activity. Ask your doctor what's an appropriate amount of fluid for you.
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