Bladder stones are caused when minerals build up in the bladder and form into small “stones.” Mostly affecting older males, bladder stones can be uncomfortable, but there are a number of treatment options available.
This article explains how bladder stones are formed. It also covers symptoms, treatments, and ways to reduce the risk of bladder stones.
Fast facts on bladder stones
Here are some key points about bladder stones. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
Bladder stones are most common in men over the age of 50
Underlying medical conditions are often responsible for bladder stones
Symptoms of bladder stones include a change in urine color and pain when urinating
Bladder stones are rarer in women
Bladder stones can be a cause of blood in the urine
What are bladder stones?
Bladder stones can consist of a variety of minerals, accumulating in the bladder when urine is not fully removed during urination.
Bladder stones, also called vesical calculus, or cystoliths, are caused by a buildup of minerals. They can occur if the bladder is not completely emptied after urination.
Eventually, the leftover urine becomes concentrated and minerals within the liquid turn into crystals.
Sometimes, these stones will be passed while they are still very small. Other times, bladder stones can get stuck to the wall of the bladder or ureter (a pipe running from the kidney to the bladder).
If this happens, they gradually gather more mineral crystals, becoming larger over time.
Bladder stones can stay in the bladder for some time and do not always cause symptoms. They are often found when an X-ray is carried out for a different medical reason.
Bigger bladder stones may need to be removed by healthcare professionals.
Sometimes just one stone will develop, in other cases a group of stones might form. The stones vary in shape; some are almost spherical while others can be irregular shapes.
The smallest bladder stones are barely visible to the naked eye, but some can grow to an impressive size. The largest bladder stone, according to Guinness World Records, weighed almost 4 pounds 3 ounces and measured 17.9 x 12.7 x 9.5 centimeters.
Bladder stones may not produce symptoms straight away. But, if the stone irritates the bladder, symptoms can include the following:
Discomfort or pain in the penis for males
More regular urination or a stop-start flow
Starting a stream during urination takes longer
Pain in the lower stomach area
Pain and discomfort when urinating
Blood in the urine
Cloudy or abnormally dark urine
Bladder stones start to grow when urine is left in the bladder after urinating. This is often due to an underlying medical condition that stops the bladder from completely emptying when using the toilet.
Conditions that stop the bladder from fully emptying include:
Neurogenic bladder: If the nerves that run between the bladder and nervous system are damaged, for instance in a stroke or spinal injury, the bladder may not empty fully.
Prostate enlargement: If the prostate is enlarged, it can press on the urethra and cause a disruption in flow, leaving some urine in the bladder.
Medical devices: Bladder stones can be caused by catheters or other medical devices if they move to the bladder.
Bladder inflammation: Infections of the urinary tract or radiation therapy can leave the bladder enlarged.
Kidney stones: Kidney stones can migrate down the ureters and, if too large to pass, they will remain in the bladder and can cause obstruction. Kidney stones are more common than bladder stones.
Bladder diverticula: Pouches can form within the bladder. If the pouches grow to a large size, they can hold urine and prevent the bladder from being fully emptied.
Cystocele: In women, the bladder wall can become weak and drop down to the vagina; this can affect the flow of urine from the bladder.