Bladder stones, more formally named bladder calculi, are large crystallized forms of urine bonded with minerals that cannot pass through the urethra because of blockage of the urine. Though once quite common in the Western world, the risk of developing bladder stones has significantly decreased because of the availability of better diagnostics, antibiotics, and better nutritional health. Underdeveloped countries with little access to the above report the highest incidence of bladder stones.
The urethra can be blocked by mineral imbalances caused by poor nutrition, enlargement of the prostate gland, the long-term presence of urinary catheters, or urinary tract infections. Most bladder stones do not cause symptoms by themselves, but their predisposing conditions do. Most sufferers notice that their urine production is painful, significantly reduced or completely blocked. Prolonged urinary tract infections can cause chronic bladder pain or blood in the urine.
When urinary output causes great pain or is stopped completely, it is important to see a physician as soon as possible. Usually, the physician will order x-rays to visualize the presence of stones. If the x-ray cannot successfully visualize bladder stones, a physician may perform a cystoscopy. During cystoscopy, a catheter with a tiny camera on it is inserted through the urethra into the bladder to determine the presence of stones. The cystoscope can also examine the presence of a blockage of the urine stream.
Once bladder stones are diagnosed, the underlying causes are treated, when possible. Enlargement of the prostate can sometimes be addressed surgically. Those with urinary tract infections are generally given antibiotics. Urinary catheters are replaced as needed. Often, when urinary catheters are not replaced as directed, they can cause significant infection and blockage. Dietary changes to decrease certain mineral deposits may also be recommended.
The physician must also address the presence of the bladder stones. Certain chemicals, when inserted in the bladder, may dissolve the stones and promote their passage through the urethra. With cystoscopy, shock treatments directed at the stones can cause them to break into small pieces that are either removed by the cystoscope or allowed to pass. Urination after surgical removal of bladder stones can be quite painful for several weeks. One should consult with one’s physician regarding when to contact him or her if urination remains painful after a few weeks.
Most patients who have bladder stones surgically removed are able to return to ordinary activities within two to three weeks. Further steps should be taken to prevent the reformation of stones when possible, including treatment of urinary tract infections, possible dietary modifications, and further education on catheter use and requirements.