Bladder stones are crystalline masses that form from the minerals and proteins that naturally occur in urine. These types of stones are much less common than kidney stones.
Bladder stones can form anywhere in the urinary tract before depositing in the bladder. They begin as tiny granules about the size of a grain of sand, but they can grow to more than an inch in diameter. These stones can block the flow of urine causing pain and difficulty with urination. They can also scratch the bladder wall, which may lead to bleeding or infection.
While the exact causes of the formation of bladder stones are not completely understood, bladder stones usually occur because of urinary tract infection (UTI), obstruction of the urinary tract, enlargement of the prostate gland in men, or the presence of foreign bodies in the urinary tract. Diet and the amount of fluid intake also appear to be important factors in the development of bladder stones.
Ninety-five percent of all bladder stones occur in men, most of whom have an enlarged prostate gland or a UTI. These stones are rarely seen in children or in African Americans. People with gout may develop bladder stones composed almost entirely of uric acid.
The symptoms of bladder stones may become evident when the wall of the bladder is scratched or when the urinary tract becomes obstructed by the stone. These symptoms include:
Some people with bladder stones also may experience an inability to control urination (urinary incontinence).
The diagnosis of bladder stones is usually made after a physical examination, which may include a rectal examination to check for enlargement of the prostate gland. Urine tests are then used to determine if there is blood or indications of an UTI in the urine. If bladder stones are suspected, bladder or pelvic x rays may be ordered. Stones that are large enough to cause problems with urinary function are almost always detectable by x ray.
Many bladder stones can be passed out of the body in the urine. People with small bladder stones will be asked to increase their fluid intakes to at least six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day to increase urinary output. If the stones do not pass after two weeks, or if the patient's symptoms become worse, further medical treatment may be required.
A large bladder stone, or small stone that the patient cannot pass in the urine, may be broken up into smaller stones using ultrasound (shock waves). These smaller stones may then pass in the urine. Stones that cannot be broken into pieces by these methods, or that the patient cannot pass, may have to be surgically removed.
Traditional herbal remedies for bladder stones include celery seed and horsetail. Also, because incomplete bladder emptying may cause bladder stones, many patients may benefit from methods and remedies aimed at improving overall bladder function. These include Kegel exercises, which are used to strengthen the muscles involved in urination; herbal supplements (cornsilk, hydrangea, juniper berries, parsley, and uva ursi) used to increase urine flow and flush out sediment from the bladder; and the consumption of cranberry juice and/or fresh, unsweetened lemon juice. Cranberry juice helps to control urinary tract infection and contains a chemical that coats the walls of the bladder, making them more resistant to infection. Lemon juice helps to flush out the urinary system.
Most bladder stones can be, and are, passed out of the body in the urine without any permanent damage to the bladder or the rest of the urinary tract. However, most bladder stones arise from an underlying medical condition. Therefore, if this medical condition is not corrected approximately half of all patients will experience a recurrence of bladder stones within five years.
Bladder stones may, in some cases, be prevented by the patient receiving prompt medical treatment for an enlarged prostate gland or UTI. The consumption of at least six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day and/or the regular consumption of cranberry juice may help to prevent recurrences of bladder stones.