What is neurogenic bladder?

When neurological (nervous system) conditions affect the bladder, it is called neurogenic bladder. There are two major types of bladder control problems that are associated with a neurogenic bladder. Depending on the nerves involved and nature of the damage, the bladder becomes either overactive (spastic or hyper-reflexive) or underactive (flaccid or hypotonic).

What is the bladder?

The bladder is a hollow organ located in the pelvis, or lower abdomen. The bladder has two important functions:

  • It stores urine.
  • It removes urine from the body through a complex communication circuit in the spinal cord and brain.

Urinary incontinence occurs when a person cannot control the flow of urine. The storage of urine can be a problem if the bladder is unable to empty fully or if it begins to empty itself before the person reaches the bathroom (a condition known as overactive bladder). Leakage can occur if the bladder cannot empty (overflow incontinence), if the sphincter controlling urination doesn’t work (stress incontinence), or if bladder spasms cause the bladder to shrink before the person reaches the toilet (urge incontinence).

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What causes neurogenic bladder?

Neurogenic bladder can be congenital (present at birth). Birth defects that can cause neurogenic bladder include:

  • Spina bifida (myelomeningocele): This disorder occurs when the fetus' spine does not completely develop during the first month of pregnancy. Babies born with myelomeningocele often have paralysis or weakness that affects how the bladder works.
  • Sacral agenesis: This is a condition in which parts of the lower spine are missing.
  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy is a group of chronic (long-term) disorders that weaken a person's ability to control body movement and posture. These disorders result from injury to the motor areas of the brain. The problem causing cerebral palsy may occur while the infant is still in the womb or after birth. Cerebral palsy is not always found during a child's first year of life.

Various medical conditions can cause neurogenic bladder, including the following:

  • Stroke
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Spinal surgeries
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Trauma/accidents
  • Central nervous system tumors
  • Heavy metal poisoning

What are the symptoms of neurogenic bladder?

The most common symptom of neurogenic bladder is being unable to control urination. Other symptoms include:

  • A weak or dribbling urinary stream
  • Frequent urination (urinating eight or more times daily)
  • Urgency (a feeling or need to urinate immediately)
  • Painful urination, which may mean there is a urinary tract infection