Diagnosing bladder stones may involve:
- A physical exam. Your doctor will likely feel your lower abdomen to see if your bladder is enlarged (distended) or may perform a rectal exam to determine whether your prostate is enlarged. You’ll also discuss any urinary signs or symptoms that you’re having.
- Analysis of your urine (urinalysis). A sample of your urine may be collected and examined for microscopic amounts of blood, bacteria and crystallized minerals. A urinalysis also helps determine whether you have a urinary tract infection, which can cause or be the result of bladder stones.
- Computerized tomography (CT). CT uses X-rays and computers to quickly scan and provide clear images of the inside of your body. CT can detect even very small stones and is considered one of the most sensitive tests for identifying all types of bladder stones.
- Ultrasound. An ultrasound, which bounces sound waves off organs and structures in your body to create pictures, can help your doctor detect bladder stones.
- X-ray. An X-ray of your kidneys, ureters and bladder helps your doctor determine whether stones are present in your urinary system. But some types of stones aren’t visible on conventional X-rays.
Bladder stones generally need to be removed. Your doctor may recommend drinking a lot of water each day to help a small stone pass naturally. However, because bladder stones are often caused by the inability to empty the bladder completely, this may not be enough to make the stone pass. Most cases require removal of the stones.
Breaking stones apart
Bladder stones are often removed during a procedure called a cystolitholapaxy (sis-toe-lih-THOL-uh-pak-see). A small tube with a camera at the end (cystoscope) is inserted through your urethra and into your bladder to view the stone. Your doctor then uses a laser, ultrasound or mechanical device to break the stone into small pieces and flushes the pieces from your bladder.
Hand-held lithotripters use ultrasonic energy to break up the stone into pieces small enough to pass in the urine. Holmium laser lithotripsy uses a laser to break up the stone.
Before the procedure, you’ll likely be given an anesthetic that numbs the lower part of your body (regional anesthesia) or that makes you unconscious and unable to feel pain (general anesthesia). Complications from a cystolitholapaxy aren’t common, but urinary tract infections, fever, a tear in your bladder or bleeding can occur. Your doctor may give you antibiotics before and after the procedure to reduce the risk of infections.
About a month after the cystolitholapaxy, your doctor will likely confirm that there are no remaining stone fragments in your bladder.
Occasionally, bladder stones that are large or too hard to break up are removed through surgery. In these cases, your doctor makes an incision in your bladder and directly removes the stones.
No studies have confirmed that herbal remedies can break up bladder stones, which are extremely hard and usually require a laser, ultrasound or other procedure for removal.
Always check with your doctor before taking any alternative medicine therapy to be sure it’s safe and that it won’t adversely interact with other medications you’re taking.