What You Need to Know about Neurogenic Bladder and Bowel
Neurogenic bladder and bowel are highly common conditions that can result in people of all ages who have sustained traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCIs) or other neurological damage. These conditions are issues that many spinal cord injury survivors experience but are too embarrassed to talk about with family members or their doctors.
If we’re describing you, we want you to know that you’re not alone and that you have no reason to feel embarrassed about neurogenic bladder and bowel issues. In fact, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) estimates that there are about 17,700 new SCI cases each year (not including people who died of their initial injuries). Of those, research shows:
“More than 80% of these individuals exhibit at least some degree of bladder dysfunction... In a large cohort study of patients with neurogenic bladder, 40% attended a urology clinic visit over 1 year, 33% were hospitalized, and 15% were in a nursing home. UTIs were responsible for more than 20% of all 1-year hospitalizations.
The spinal cord, which consists of 31 nerve bundles rather than one literal “cord,” serves as your body’s information superhighway and is responsible for transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body. However, if you have suffered an injury that partially damaged or completely severed your spinal cord (known as incomplete and complete spinal cord injuries), it can affect your ability to control a variety of systems and muscle functions, including bladder and bowel control.
What is Neurogenic Bladder?
Neurogenic bladder is a spastic or flaccid dysfunction that affects part of the urinary system, which consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. This condition results from neurological damage caused by your spinal cord injury that prevents messages from being transmitted between the brain and bladder. The voiding function of the bladder, which is responsible for storing and excreting the liquid waste (urine) that is created by your kidneys, is controlled by the body’s nervous system.
An average bladder will need to empty four to eight times per day. However, for people with spinal cord injuries, bladder control is impeded because of the nerve damage. They may only be able to urine in little spurts or not at all.
Symptoms of Neurogenic Bladder
The symptoms and secondary conditions that result from this condition can vary from person to person depending on the damage their spinal cord has sustained. Some of these conditions may include:
- Bladder Pressure
- Bladder or Kidney Stones
- Diminished Quality of Life
- Inability to Fully Empty the Bladder
- Renal Impairment
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
What is Neurogenic Bowel?
Neurogenic bowel is much like neurogenic bladder in that it is a spastic or flaccid condition that stems from neurological damage. However, this condition affects your upper and/or lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract instead of your bladder and results in loss of normal bowel function.
Symptoms of Neurogenic Bowel
Neurogenic bladder frequently results in one or more conditions, including:
- Abdominal Pain or Distention
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Loss of Bowel Control (Otherwise Known as Bowel Incontinence)
- Bowel Irregularity or Frequency Issues
- Lack of bowel movements
- Autonomic Dysreflexia (in SCI Patients with T6 or Higher Injures)
How to Treat Neurogenic Bladder and Bowel Conditions
The treatment for neurogenic bladder and bowel depend on certain factors, which will be discussed below. However, there is no “cure” for the condition. People who are living with the neurogenic bladder and bowel typically learn to incorporate bladder management and bowel management programs into their daily lives.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, the treatment for neurogenic bladder that your physician chooses will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- “your age, overall health, and medical history
- the cause of the nerve damage
- the types of symptoms
- the severity of symptoms
- your tolerance for certain medications, procedures or therapies
- their expectations for the course of the condition”
Some of the treatment options for neurogenic bladder include prescription medications, continuous or clean intermittent catheterization (CIC), and surgery. The treatment options for neurogenic bladder, on the other hand, include prescription medications, surgery, and anal irrigation.
To learn more about neurogenic bladder and bowel, as well as other bladder, bowel, and sexual function related issues after a spinal cord injury, be sure to check out our newest resource. This helpful guide also will provide you with information about how you may be able to recover funds to cover the cost of your medical bills, lost income and more if your injuries were the results of another person’s actions or inactions.
Click on the link below to download our free guide.
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About the Author
Spinal Cord Team