Bladder stones, which are also referred to as vesical calculus or cystoliths, most often occur when the bladder isn’t completely emptied, and the minerals in the remaining urine—known as concentrated urine—crystallize into hard masses.
There are a variety of factors that may cause this to happen, which we’ll soon explore, but struggling with emptying the bladder isn’t the only reason stones can occur. In some cases there may be an underlying medical condition or infection that is contributing to their formation. Read on to learn more about the nine most common causes of this condition.
1. Prostate Gland Enlargement
All men have something called a prostate gland, which is located between the penis and the bladder. It surrounds the urethra, a “thin tube that transports urine from your bladder during urination,” defines Healthline.com.
As they age, many men will develop an enlarged prostate, which the NHS says “can press on the urethra and block the flow of urine from their bladder.” While this is typically treatable, the source indicates that bladder stones can develop in those for whom the treatment is unsuccessful.
2. Damaged Nerves
When your nerves are functioning properly, the Mayo Clinic says they will “carry messages from your brain to your bladder muscles, directing your bladder muscles to tighten or release.” If these nerves become damaged, however—from a stroke or spinal injury, for example—the bladder may not completely empty when urinating.
This is referred to as neurogenic bladder; a condition that oftentimes requires people to have a catheter inserted into the bladder to help drain it. But even the catheter frequently leaves a small amount of urine behind, which the NHS says “can lead to the formation of bladder stones.” The source adds that this occurs in approximately “one in 10 people with a neurogenic bladder.”
According to MedicalNewsToday.com, “Infections of the urinary tract or radiation therapy can leave the bladder enlarged,” and this inflammation can lead to bladder stones.
Urinary tract infections are especially common in women, which Healthline.com says is because “Women have shorter urethras, which makes for a shorter path for bacteria to enter the bladder.” And this bacteria is what causes the infection to occur.
4. Medical Devices
As mentioned earlier, catheters can cause bladder stones to develop if they fail to completely empty the bladder. But bladder stones may also occur simply due to the catheter being in place, as mineral crystals can form on the sides of the tubes.
In addition to catheters, the Mayo Clinic says this same mineral crystal formation can occur on other objects “such as a contraceptive device or urinary stent” if they accidentally make their way into the bladder.
5. Kidney Stones
Although the stones that form in the kidney are different from those that develop in the bladder, WebMD says it’s possible that “a small kidney stone could move from your kidney into your bladder and grow.”
This may sound alarming, but it can happen frequently without you noticing, as Healthline.com says “small kidney stones may not present any problems and pass painlessly through your urine.” Where the problems arise is if the kidney stone is too large to pass through the bladder and gets stuck. In which case, the source says they may have to be removed by a doctor.
6. Bladder Diverticula
According to the NHS, bladder diverticula “are pouches that develop in the wall of the bladder.” If they get too big, urine can collect in them, making it difficult for a person to completely empty their bladder and increasing the likelihood of developing bladder stones.
The source says that these pouches “can be present at birth or develop as a complication of infection or prostate enlargement.”
Cystocele is a condition that affects only women, as the NHS says it occurs “when the wall of the bladder becomes weakened and drops down into the vagina,” which can affect the flow of urine from the bladder.
The source says cystocele can occur “during a period of excessive straining,” such as when giving birth, lifting heavy objects, or while struggling with a bout of constipation.
8. Bladder Augmentation Surgery
People who struggle with urinary incontinence (a loss of bladder control) may choose to help treat their condition by having bladder augmentation surgery. According to the NHS, in this procedure “a piece of the bowel is removed and attached to the bladder to make it larger.”
Unfortunately, having bladder augmentation surgery can increase a person’s chances of developing bladder stones. The source says that they occur in one in 20 people who have the procedure.
While in North American bladder stones are rarely caused by poor diet, it is far more common in developing countries. WebMD says this is because “a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt that also lacks vitamins A and B can raise your chance of getting bladder stones.”
This NHS says this is especially the case if a person is not consuming enough fluids, which “can alter the chemical make-up of urine, making the formation of bladder stones more likely.