Urostomy Care: How to Treat Urinary Crystals

February 03,2022 |
Person pouring a glass of water.

There are thousands of people who suffer from chronic bladder conditions each year. For those afflicted with bladder cancer or serious disease, it may be difficult to maneuver throughout daily life without urinary problems. This can negatively affect your mental health, causing a decline in the participation of activities you once loved. Depending on the severity of your condition, a urostomy surgery may be recommended. This is especially true when your bladder no longer functions as it should, and you notice a substantial decrease in your quality of life. While this diversion surgery will help you manage your day-to-day life, there are ongoing risks that you need to be careful of. One of those risks includes the buildup of urinary crystals. To help you with all of your urostomy care, here we’ll discuss how to identify and treat urinary crystals.

What is a Urostomy?

The urinary tract is a delicate system that processes your blood and helps rid your body of waste products. Using an internal filtration mechanism called the glomerulus, your kidneys constantly work to process blood so that beneficial substances stay in the body and waste is efficiently removed. Once separated, the waste travels down your ureters and into the bladder until it’s time to use the bathroom. When your bladder is full, a signal is sent to your brain, and you make a voluntary decision to urinate. It’s not uncommon for problems to occur with the urinary system and while many of them are easily treatable, some require a more extensive approach.

Certain diseases, chronic conditions, birth defects, and accidents can contribute to serious bladder complications, causing disturbances to the natural process of using the bathroom. In serious cases, bladder control may be completely involuntary, defective, or the bladder may need to be removed entirely. Treatment options in these instances would require a urostomy.

A urostomy is a type of ostomy surgery that’s performed when there are serious problems with bladder functioning. It allows urine to be redirected away from a diseased or defective bladder and out of the body through a small opening in the abdominal wall called a stoma. In conjunction with a urostomy, your bladder may either be removed completely (cystectomy) or simply bypassed so that it can heal. Either way, a urostomy will require you to wear a pouching system to collect the persistent output of urine coming from the stoma.

Differences Between Pouching Systems

Many ostomy pouches have wide mouths that connect directly to your stoma. The pouch itself needs to be removed, emptied, cleaned, and replaced regularly. Since the only output is urine with a urostomy, there is the possibility of connecting a drain valve to the tubing to extend the time between changing your pouching system. This is especially beneficial at night or if you plan to travel with a urostomy.

What are Urinary Crystals?

Since your urine is a waste product of the things you consume, the pH levels vary. Normal ranges are between 4.5 to 8 pH, due to the natural acid-base balance maintained by the kidneys. Urine becomes more acidic in situations where sodium is high. This also occurs in individuals who have a diet rich in meat and cranberry juice. Urine becomes more alkaline when there’s excessive alkali in the body, often in the case of individuals who have a high fruit and vegetable intake with little meat consumption, such as a vegetarian. For individuals living with a urostomy, it’s important to understand how the pH of their urine changes.

Depending on your doctor’s instructions, you will likely need to keep your urine in an acidic state. This is because when it’s more alkaline, there’s a mineral residue left behind that can create a byproduct called urinary crystals. If you have a urostomy, these crystals appear on the stoma and peristomal skin and have a small, white appearance that may look or feel gritty. Due to the sensitivity of this area, these crystals can cause stoma irritation that eventually causes bleeding.

How to Maintain Urine Acidity Levels

The best way to completely prevent urinary crystals from forming is to maintain urine acidity levels. Luckily, with a few lifestyle changes, there are plenty of ways you can achieve this. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy pH balance and avoid urinary crystals is to stay properly hydrated and drink plenty of water. While the recommended daily intake is about eight to 10 glasses a day, you may need to consume more if you’re exercising, in a hot environment, or if you’re sick. If your urine is clear to a pale yellowish color, you’re properly hydrated.

You may also need to change the structure of your diet. While it’s still important to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables, consider adding meat, beans, fish, prunes, coffee, cereals, and plums to help maintain a more acidic pH level. Cranberry juice is also effective, so consider adding a glass of juice to your daily regimen to replace other, more alkaline drinks such as orange juice.

Important Information About Treating Urinary Crystals

Even if you take preventative measures, you may still experience urinary crystals at some point. This can be an uncomfortable and scary experience, especially if it’s the first occurrence. To help ease irritation and reduce the chances of further complications, it’s important to treat any urinary crystals that have formed around your stoma.

The best treatment option is to make a solution that’s equal parts warm water and white vinegar. Remove your urostomy pouch and any adhesive or other skin prep material then rinse your stoma using the solution. After rinsing, use a warm compress that’s saturated with your solution and apply it to the stoma for a couple of minutes. The vinegar in the solution will dissolve the crystals and reduce your risk of further irritation or bleeding. After you remove the compress, rinse your stoma with warm water and then continue to perform your regular pouching routine.

The Importance of Caring for Your Stoma

Properly caring for your stoma and monitoring it for any changes is essential to maintaining optimal health and avoiding infection. Your peristomal skin should look the same as all of the surrounding skin, so if you notice signs of tenderness or soreness, you may need to change the way you care for this area. Make sure that you’re properly cleaning your peristomal skin and if you notice any alarming changes, contact your doctor immediately.

While the size of your stoma can fluctuate immediately following surgery, it should be properly sized to avoid excess irritation. After about six to eight weeks, once the initial swelling and size fluctuations decrease, you’ll want to measure your stoma to find the best fit for your pouching system. This helps avoid leakages that can cause irritation or byproducts such as urinary crystals. Healthy skin helps reduce the occurrence of overall irritation, infection, and ongoing discomfort. By taking a proactive approach, you can keep your urostomy functioning its best and your stoma in good condition. To reduce your risk of complications, incorporate these ostomy skin care tips into your daily routine. If you notice any signs of a problem, change in the size or shape, or abnormal output, call your doctor immediately.

While there’s going to be an adjustment period after having your urostomy, it will become easier. Managing your pouching system is preferred to experiencing embarrassing accidents or ongoing incontinence issues, so it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of your new situation. For answers to common ostomy questions, utilize reliable resources or talk to your doctor. For those struggling with their new lifestyle, joining an ostomy support group can help you connect with other ostomates. To join a local support group based on your zip code, head over to UOAA today.

If you’re looking for further resources, Byram Healthcare has plenty of options for ostomy education and support. We offer discreet delivery directly to your doorstep for a range of ostomy supplies including pouching systems, skin barriers, and helpful products to improve the quality of life for ostomates around the country. To get started, check out our ostomy product selection guide today.