Bladder stones occur when minerals build up in a person’s bladder, forming small “stones.” Mostly affecting older males, they can cause pain and discomfort. Small bladder stones often pass naturally, but larger ones may need treatment.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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This article explains how bladder stones form. It also covers the symptoms, treatments, and ways to reduce the risk of bladder stones.

Fast facts on bladder stones

Here are some key points about bladder stones:

  • Bladder stones are most common in males 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 females.
  • Bladder stones can cause blood in the urine.

Bladder stones are also called “vesical calculi” or “cystoliths.” They occur due to a buildup of minerals that happens if the bladder does not completely empty after urination.

Eventually, the leftover urine becomes concentrated, and minerals within the liquid turn into crystals. Uric acid, which is the chemical the body releases when it breaks down substances, most commonly makes up bladder stones.

Bladder stones can stay in the bladder for some time and do not always cause symptoms. They are often found when a person has an X-ray for a different medical reason. Healthcare professionals may need to remove larger bladder stones.

Sometimes only one stone will develop, while in other cases, a group of stones might form.

The stones can vary in shape: Some are almost spherical, while others can be irregular shapes. A common type of bladder stone is called a “jackstone” because it is shaped like a jack from the kids’ game Jacks.

Are bladder stones the same as kidney stones?

Bladder stones and kidney stones are different.

Most bladder stones will form in the bladder. In some cases, however, stones that form in the kidneys can be small enough to pass down into the bladder through the ureters (the tubes running from the kidney to the bladder). In this case, kidney stones can become bladder stones.

Sometimes these stones will pass out of the body while they are still very small. Other times, bladder stones can gradually gather more mineral crystals, becoming larger and harder to pass over time.

How common are bladder stones?

Although females can get bladder stones, they are more common in males over the age of 50, usually due to an enlarged prostate gland or another type of bladder blockage.

Bladder stones are rare in children. They may also cause bed wetting.

Bladder stones may not produce symptoms straightaway. But, if the stone irritates the bladder, symptoms can include:

  • discomfort or pain in the penis
  • more regular urination or a stop-start flow
  • taking longer to start urinating
  • pain in the lower abdominal area
  • pain and discomfort when urinating
  • blood in the urine
  • cloudy or abnormally dark urine

Bladder stones start to grow when urine stays in the bladder after a person urinates. This is often due to an underlying medical condition that stops the bladder from completely emptying.

In addition to kidney stones, which can move through the ureters and cause a blockage, other causes of bladder stones can include:

  • Neurogenic bladder: If the nerves that run between the bladder and nervous system are damaged, such as in a stroke or spinal injury, the bladder may not empty fully.
  • Enlarged prostate: If the prostate is enlarged, it can press on the urethra and cause a disruption in urine 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: Urinary tract infections or radiation therapy can leave the bladder enlarged.
  • 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 emptying fully.
  • Cystocele: In people with a vagina, the bladder wall can become weak and drop down to the vagina. This can affect the flow of urine from the bladder.
  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can cause minerals to build up in the bladder instead of being diluted and removed through the urine.
  • Augmentation cystoplasty: This procedure, in which bowel tissue is attached to the bladder to enlarge it, may cause some urine to remain in the bladder.

Below are some factors that can increase the risk of bladder stones:

  • Age and sex: Males develop bladder stones more often than females, especially as they get older.
  • Paralysis: People with serious spinal injuries and paralysis or loss of muscle control in the pelvic region are unable to empty their bladder completely.
  • Bladder outlet obstruction: This is any condition that blocks the flow of urine from the bladder to outside the body. There are a few different ways the bladder can be blocked, with the most common being an enlarged prostate.

Although some bladder stones do not produce any symptoms, they can still lead to complications if they are not removed. The two main complications are:

  • Chronic bladder dysfunction: This can involve frequent urination that is painful and uncomfortable. Sometimes, bladder stones can completely block urine from exiting the body.
  • Urinary tract infections: Repeated infections can occur.

There may be other, rare complications. According to a 2020 case report, one example is a vesicovaginal fistula (VVF), which is an abnormalopening between the bladder and the vagina that causes urinary incontinence.

Diagnosis of bladder stones can include a number of different tests:

  • Physical exam: A doctor might place their hands on a patient’s lower abdomen to feel if their bladder is enlarged. If the patient has a prostate, the doctor may examine the rectum to check if the prostate is enlarged.
  • Urinalysis: A urine sample might be tested for signs of blood, bacteria, and crystallized minerals.
  • Spiral CT scan: CT scans combine multiple X-ray images to build a detailed image of internal organs.
  • Ultrasound: This type of scan creates an image by bouncing high frequency sound waves off of internal organs.
  • X-ray: A healthcare professional may order an X-ray, but not all types of bladder stones show up on an X-ray.

If bladder stones are caught when they are still small, simply increasing the amount of water the individual drinks can be enough to pass them naturally.

If the bladder stones are too large to pass in the urine, treatment normally involves either breaking them up or removing them by surgery.

Breaking up bladder stones

In a procedure called “cystolitholapaxy,” a doctor inserts a thin tube with a camera on the end into the urethra (the opening found at the end of the penis or above the vagina). The doctor can view the stones through the tube and break them down.

The doctor will use a laser, ultrasound, or small tool to break up the stones before washing (or vacuuming) them away. This procedure is carried out under anesthesia.

Complications from cystolitholapaxy are rare but can include tears in the bladder wall and infections.

Surgical removal

If the stones are too large to break down using cystolitholapaxy, surgery is an alternative treatment option.

The surgeon will enter the bladder through a cut in the abdomen and remove the bladder stones. Any surgical procedure comes with some risks, so cystolitholapaxy is always the first choice when possible.

Because a range of medical conditions can cause bladder stones, there are no specific ways to prevent them.

However, if a person experiences any unusual urinary symptoms, it is best to get a healthcare professional’s opinion earlier rather than later. Unusual urinary symptoms may include:

  • pain
  • discoloration
  • blood

Drinking plenty of fluids will help break down any developing stones. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 cups of water a day.

Some people with urinary tract infections may feel like there is urine left in the bladder after urinating. In these cases, it is best to try urinating again 10–20 seconds after the first attempt. This is called “double voiding” and can help prevent stones from forming.

A 2014 meta-analysis suggests that if a person has an enlarged prostate, sitting down to urinate can help make sure that the bladder is completely emptied. This may help prevent or slow the buildup of bladder stones.

The following are some common questions about bladder stones:

How can a person get rid of bladder stones?

If a bladder stone cannot pass on its own, a person can only get rid of it by having it surgically removed.

Are bladder stones life threatening?

Bladder stones are not life threatening. However, if they do not pass naturally and are not removed, they may cause complications such as:

  • painful and frequent urination
  • urine flow blockage
  • chronic urinary tract infections

Are bladder stones and gallstones the same?

Bladder and kidney stones are made of crystallized mineral deposits. As the name implies, bladder stones typically develop in the bladder. Gallbladder stones, or gallstones, form due to a chemical imbalance of cholesterol or bilirubin, a waste product. They do not occur in the bladder, but in the gallbladder or bile duct.

How big can bladder stones get?

The smallest bladder stones are barely visible to the naked eye, but some can grow to an impressive size. According to Guinness World Records, the largest bladder stone weighed a few ounces over 4 pounds and measured 17.9 x 12.7 x 9.5 centimeters.