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Bladder stones (urinary lithiasis)

Urinary lithiasis (urolithiasis), commonly known as bladder stones, can form when concentrated urine (that is, urine that consists of more minerals and waste products than water) remains in the bladder after urination. The minerals crystallise to form stones. 

A woman holding her bladder uncomfortably

Concentrated urine may be the result of dehydration, or not being able to empty the bladder properly due to an underlying condition. Other risk factors include: 

  • An enlarged prostate
  • Bladder problems (damaged nerves in the bladder from a stroke or spinal cord injury, for example)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) 
  • A weak bladder
  • Kidney stones. 

If left untreated, bladder stones may lead to infection and other complications. Urinary lithiasis occurs most frequently in men.

What are its symptoms?

Urinary lithiasis symptoms occur when the stones begin to irritate the bladder wall or block the flow of urine, and include the following:

  • Urge to urinate frequently
  • Painful urination (burning sensation in the urethra)
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Interrupted urination
  • Penile discomfort in men
  • Cloudy or dark coloured urine

How is it diagnosed? 

A bladder stone diagnosis can be made with a urinalysis – or urine test – which can detect infection, crystallisation or any other problems. 

Imaging tests, such as a CT (computerised tomography) scan, ultrasound or X-ray may also be used to check for the presence of bladder stones or any other abnormalities. 

A pyelogram, which uses contrast material to highlight organs in the urinary tract, and an X-ray to take pictures of the various stages during the procedure, may also be done. 

What are your treatment options? 

In almost all cases, bladder stone treatment will involve removing the stone. If the stone is small, increased water intake may be recommended to flush it out, but because bladder stones are usually the result of not being able to empty the bladder sufficiently, stones may not pass so easily.

A procedure called a cystolitholapaxy is often used to remove bladder stones. A cystoscope (a small tube and camera) is inserted into the urethra and then the bladder. Laser or ultrasound is then used to break the stone into smaller pieces that are then flushed from the bladder. 

Local or general anaesthesia may be used, and to prevent any infections, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics after the procedure. A follow-up check is usually done about a month later. 

If bladder stones are too large to break down with this method, open surgery may be necessary. An incision is made in the bladder and the stones directly removed. 

Can it be prevented? 

Bladder stones are usually the result of an underlying condition, but there are a few ways to reduce your risk of getting them, including:

  • If you experience any urinary symptoms that are out of the ordinary, see your doctor for a diagnosis. Treatment for an underlying condition, such as an enlarged prostate, can reduce the chances of developing bladder stones.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, helps to reduce the concentration of minerals in your urine. How much you drink depends on your age, health status, and how much activity you do. Chat to your doctor for advice. 

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in July 2016