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What is a Neurogenic Bladder?

By K. Pike
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term neurogenic bladder is used in reference to a specific nerve condition that prevents the bladder from working properly. The bladder is a relatively small part of the body that we often taken for granted, yet it plays an important role in everyday life.

In the most general terms, when a healthy bladder becomes full, the nerves will send signals from the bladder to the brain alerting the person that it is time to urinate. In the case of a neurogenic bladder, damaged nerves in the spinal cord and bladder fail to work properly. The extent of that nerve damage will affect how well these nerves function with respect to the bladder.

There are two types of neurogenic bladder: underactive and overactive. Both kinds of dysfunction are found in males and females alike. An underactive neurogenic bladder tends to hold more urine than normal and fails to void completely, while the opposite is true of an overactive neurogenic bladder where too much urination is the problem.

The underactive bladder is the least talked about type of neurogenic bladder. It occurs more frequently in children and is usually a symptom of a birth defect, injury or disorder that affects the spinal cord. Examples of such causes include Spina bifida, tethered cord, pelvic or spinal tumors. In less severe cases, there may be enough nerve function to signal bladder sensation, allowing the person to recognize that he or she needs to urinate. However, the bladder is not able contract enough to completely empty. Urine then sits in the bladder often resulting in infection.

In more severe cases of an underactive neurogenic bladder, the individual has absolutely no sensation of a full bladder and is unaware of the need to urinate at all. The condition is further complicated by the inability of the bladder to contract and fully empty once urination has begun. For those with this type of neurogenic bladder, the use of a catheter every few hours to empty the bladder is the most common kind of treatment. Surgery may be a viable option in rare instances.

The more common, overactive bladder, mostly found in adults, may cause urination that is uncontrollable. In this case, the person may experience explosive or a spastic type of urination. “Holding it” until a bathroom becomes available can prove to be a difficult task. This type of bladder dysfunction may be caused by nerve damage due to childbirth, injury or other age-related nerve conditions. Surgery and medication are often successful in treating this disorder.

Common symptoms of an underactive or overactive neurogenic bladder include urine leakage, repeated bladder infections, incontinence, and kidney stones. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of a neurogenic bladder you should consult your health care professional or a urologist.

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