If you’ve ever had an experience with bladder stones, you’ll know that they’re no walk in the park. Bladder stones can be extremely painful and may drastically interfere with your regular day to day activities. In this day and age, almost every illness comes with a long list of treatments. However, with bladder stones, that’s not always the case. Some of the risks of treatment procedures outweigh the benefits, so many bladder stones are left alone for chance of passing on their own. As we’ll discuss, this sometimes leads to serious complications that can become life-threatening or that may cause additional chronic conditions down the road. Again, bladder stones cannot always be treated, but there are steps that you can take to prevent getting them. Educating yourself about the causes and condition is always one of the most effective ways of preventing/avoiding getting bladder stones in the first place. Taking the small amount of time needed to educate yourself on the bladder stones subject may prevent you from experiencing unnecessary agony and may help you save boat loads of money in the long run.
Overview of Bladder Stones
To sum it up, bladder stones are small (sometimes large) clumps of minerals that crystallize and build up inside your bladder. These accumulations are most commonly the result of not fully emptying your bladder, but may result from other issues with the body. Kidney stones are not to be confused with bladder stones. The difference between the two being that one is formed from mineral accumulations in the kidney, and the other being formed in the bladder. However, many kidney stones drop from the kidneys to the bladder on their path towards expulsion. It is also fairly common from mineral accumulations to begin in the kidneys, and then further develop and grow inside the bladder. In developing countries, bladder stones are most common in children. However, in other parts of the world, bladder stones are most commonly found in adults. Bladder stones are most common in adults over the age of 50 and are seen more in men than women.
Bladder stones can be caused by nearly any type of mineral, but some of the culprits are more well-known than others. Below are several types of the most common minerals that cause bladder stones:
- Forms of Calcium – These are among the most prevalent when it comes to bladder stones. Forms of calcium such as calcium oxalate dehydrate, calcium oxalate monohydrate, and calcium phosphate, may cause or contribute to bladder stones.
- Forms of Magnesium – Magnesium analogs are also a common accumulation of bladder stones. The most common of these forms being magnesium phosphate.
- Forms of Ammonia – Ammonia is highly present in human urine. Ammonium phosphate and ammonium magnesium phosphate bladder stones are fairly common.
- Uric Acid and salts of uric acid
So what causes these bladder stones? Well, Lloyd (in Dumb & Dumber) says it best: “I can’t stop going once I’ve started, it stings!” It may not just sting when you stop, but you may be adding to your risk of getting bladder stones. The root cause of bladder stones is usually because your bladder is not fully being emptied. The minerals in the urine crystallize and begin to accumulate into a mass. Over time, this mass may continue to grow and there you have it – a bladder stone!
There are other factors and contributors to the development of bladder stones, however. For instance, an enlarged prostate gland may prevent men from fully emptying their bladder. This is one of the most common causes of bladder stones, and the reason why bladder stones are more prevalent in men than women. Nerve damage is another underlying cause that commonly contributes to bladder stone masses. Some individuals that have experienced nerve damage in parts of their body and brain experience issues that cause a disconnection between the bladder and brain. An example of nerve damage that may have these effects is spondylosis. This condition is caused by cervical disk issues and sometimes results in disks losing their ability to hold fluid, as well as bone spurs, sometimes resulting in the shrinking of the spinal column. Spondylosis and other forms of nerve damage may result in the brain thinking that the bladder is fully emptied, when in all reality, it is not.
Bladder inflammation and medical devices are also seen as causes for bladder stones. While not as common as the previously mentioned contributors, many of these cases are often seen. For instance, those that undergo radiation treatments or that experience urinary tract or bladder infections tend to experience inflammation in their bladders which may obstruct the urinary system. Catheters and other medical devices may also obstruct these same pathways.
Serious Complications of Bladder Stones
Not all bladder stones cause noticeable symptoms which is one reason that complications are sometimes seen which untreated bladder stones. Below are some of the top complications that may arise from the presence of a bladder stone. Afterwards, we will discuss signs and symptoms of a bladder stone and steps to take to avoid the risk of these complications:
Permanent Bladder Dysfunction – Untreated bladder stones may result in permanent damage to the bladder or urinary tract system. This permanent damage may lead to bladder pain or the need to urinate frequently. There are several ways that this damage may occur, but one of the common scenarios seen is caused by the bladder stone lodging inside the urinary tract. This event may require surgery in some cases.
Urinary Tract Infections – There is a clear link between urinary tract infections and bladder stones. If the bladder stone is obstructing the urinary tract, bacterial accumulation may be a result. If not cared for properly, these infections can become very serious.
Overgrown Mass – If left untreated, bladder stones may grow too large to pass through the urinary tract. If bladder stones get to this point, they almost always require surgical removal.
Complications from Bladder stone surgery – There are several situations where bladder stones may need to be surgically removed. Risks are almost automatically increased exponentially once surgery is involved. Surgery for bladder stones could potentially result in permanent damage to the bladder or surrounding areas, adverse reactions to drugs needed for the operation, nerve damage, or infections that can sometimes be life-threatening.
Avoiding Complications from Bladder Stones
As you see, bladder stones are no laughing matter. However, if you know that you may be at risk for getting bladder stones, and if you contact a physician if you suspect that you may have a bladder stone, your chances of complications will be drastically reduced.
Prevention should be your first method of combating bladder stones. The two best ways to prevent bladder stones from accumulating in the first place are to drink plenty of fluids and to drink citric juices. By drinking plenty of fluids, the mineral to water ratio will be less, thereby decreasing the chance of mineral accumulations. Juices containing citrates have also been found to reduce chances of bladder stones from occurring.
As mentioned above, there are instances where bladder stones may not produce any noticeable symptoms; however, most bladder stones are usually accompanied by some sort of discomfort. Some of the most common symptoms that accompany bladder stones are pain in the penis or testicles (in men), abdominal pain (usually in the lower region of the abdomen), blood in the urine, difficulty urinating or difficulty fully emptying the bladder, or a burning sensation while urinating. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is strongly advised that you notify your physician immediately before it’s too late.
If bladder stones are suspected, there are several tests and forms of imaging that can be done to detect them. Your doctor will most likely begin with a physical exam to try and determine if the bladder is enlarged. This is a common indicator that a bladder stone may be forming. Your physician may also need to conduct a rectal exam to determine if you are experiencing an enlarged prostate. Your doctor may test your urine for mineral or bacterial content. If bladder stones are still suspected, your physician will most likely order for you to have some type of imaging done to verify that your issues are in fact caused by bladder stones. Common forms of imaging that reveal bladder stones include CT scans, ultrasound testing, or an X-ray of your urinary system.