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Neurogenic Bladder

By

Patrick J. Shenot

, MD, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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Neurogenic bladder is bladder dysfunction (flaccid or spastic) caused by neurologic damage. Symptoms can include overflow incontinence, frequency, urgency, urge incontinence, and retention. Risk of serious complications (eg, recurrent infection, vesicoureteral reflux, autonomic dysreflexia) is high. Diagnosis involves imaging and cystoscopy or urodynamic testing. Treatment involves catheterization or measures to trigger urination.

Any condition that impairs bladder and bladder outlet afferent and efferent signaling can cause neurogenic bladder. Causes may involve the central nervous system (eg, stroke Overview of Stroke Strokes are a heterogeneous group of disorders involving sudden, focal interruption of cerebral blood flow that causes neurologic deficit. Strokes can be Ischemic (80%), typically resulting... read more Overview of Stroke , spinal injury Spinal Trauma Trauma to the spine may cause injuries involving the spinal cord, vertebrae, or both. Occasionally, the spinal nerves are affected. The anatomy of the spinal column is reviewed elsewhere. Spinal... read more Spinal Trauma , meningomyelocele, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Other Motor Neuron Diseases (MNDs) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other motor neuron diseases are characterized by steady, relentless, progressive degeneration of corticospinal tracts, anterior horn cells, bulbar motor nuclei... read more ), peripheral nerves Overview of Peripheral Nervous System Disorders The peripheral nervous system refers to parts of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord. It includes the cranial nerves and spinal nerves from their origin to their end. The anterior... read more (eg, diabetic Diabetic Nephropathy Diabetic nephropathy is glomerular sclerosis and fibrosis caused by the metabolic and hemodynamic changes of diabetes mellitus. It manifests as slowly progressive albuminuria with worsening... read more Diabetic Nephropathy , alcoholic, or vitamin B12 deficiency Vitamin B12 Deficiency Dietary vitamin B12 deficiency usually results from inadequate absorption, but deficiency can develop in vegans who do not take vitamin supplements. Deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, damage... read more neuropathies; herniated disks Herniated Nucleus Pulposus Herniated nucleus pulposus is prolapse of an intervertebral disk through a tear in the surrounding annulus fibrosus. The tear causes pain due to irritation of sensory nerves in the disk, and... read more Herniated Nucleus Pulposus ; damage due to pelvic surgery), or both (eg, Parkinson disease Parkinson Disease Parkinson disease is a slowly progressive, degenerative disorder characterized by resting tremor, stiffness (rigidity), slow and decreased movement (bradykinesia), and eventually gait and/or... read more , multiple sclerosis Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by disseminated patches of demyelination in the brain and spinal cord. Common symptoms include visual and oculomotor abnormalities, paresthesias, weakness... read more Multiple Sclerosis (MS) , syphilis Syphilis Syphilis is caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum and is characterized by 3 sequential clinical, symptomatic stages separated by periods of asymptomatic latent infection. Common manifestations... read more Syphilis ). Bladder outlet obstruction Urinary incontinence is involuntary loss of urine; some experts consider it present only when a patient thinks it is a problem. The disorder is greatly underrecognized and underreported. Many... read more (eg, due to benign prostatic hyperplasia Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is nonmalignant adenomatous overgrowth of the periurethral prostate gland. Symptoms are those of bladder outlet obstruction—weak stream, hesitancy, urinary... read more , prostate cancer Prostate Cancer Prostate cancer is usually adenocarcinoma. Symptoms are typically absent until tumor growth causes hematuria and/or obstruction with pain. Diagnosis is suggested by digital rectal examination... read more , fecal impaction, or urethral strictures Urethral Stricture Urethral stricture is scarring that obstructs the anterior urethral lumen. Urethral stricture can be Congenital Acquired Anything that damages the urethral epithelium or corpus spongiosum can... read more ) often coexists and may exacerbate symptoms.

In flaccid (hypotonic) neurogenic bladder, volume is large, pressure is low, and contractions are absent. It may result from peripheral nerve damage or spinal cord damage at the S2 to S4 level. After acute cord damage, initial flaccidity may be followed by long-term flaccidity or spasticity, or bladder function may improve after days, weeks, or months.

In spastic bladder, volume is typically normal or small, and involuntary contractions occur. It usually results from brain damage or spinal cord damage above T12. Precise symptoms vary by site and severity of the lesion. Bladder contraction and external urinary sphincter relaxation are typically uncoordinated (detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia).

Mixed patterns (flaccid and spastic bladder) may be caused by many disorders, including syphilis Syphilis Syphilis is caused by the spirochete Treponema pallidum and is characterized by 3 sequential clinical, symptomatic stages separated by periods of asymptomatic latent infection. Common manifestations... read more Syphilis , diabetes mellitus Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is impaired insulin secretion and variable degrees of peripheral insulin resistance leading to hyperglycemia. Early symptoms are related to hyperglycemia and include polydipsia... read more , brain or spinal cord tumors Overview of Spinal Cord Disorders Spinal cord disorders can cause permanent severe neurologic disability. For some patients, such disability can be avoided or minimized if evaluation and treatment are rapid. The spinal cord... read more , stroke Overview of Stroke Strokes are a heterogeneous group of disorders involving sudden, focal interruption of cerebral blood flow that causes neurologic deficit. Strokes can be Ischemic (80%), typically resulting... read more Overview of Stroke , ruptured intervertebral disk Herniated Nucleus Pulposus Herniated nucleus pulposus is prolapse of an intervertebral disk through a tear in the surrounding annulus fibrosus. The tear causes pain due to irritation of sensory nerves in the disk, and... read more Herniated Nucleus Pulposus , and demyelinating or degenerative disorders (eg, multiple sclerosis Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by disseminated patches of demyelination in the brain and spinal cord. Common symptoms include visual and oculomotor abnormalities, paresthesias, weakness... read more Multiple Sclerosis (MS) , amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Other Motor Neuron Diseases (MNDs) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other motor neuron diseases are characterized by steady, relentless, progressive degeneration of corticospinal tracts, anterior horn cells, bulbar motor nuclei... read more ).

Symptoms and Signs of Neurogenic Bladder

Patients with spastic bladder may have frequency, nocturia, and spastic paralysis with sensory deficits; most have intermittent bladder contractions causing urine leakage and, unless they lack sensation, urgency. In patients with detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia, sphincter spasm during voiding may prevent complete bladder emptying.

Common complications include recurrent urinary tract infections Introduction to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be divided into upper tract infections, which involve the kidneys (pyelonephritis), and lower tract infections, which involve the bladder (cystitis), urethra... read more and urinary calculi Urinary Calculi Urinary calculi are solid particles in the urinary system. They may cause pain, nausea, vomiting, hematuria, and, possibly, chills and fever due to secondary infection. Diagnosis is based on... read more . Hydronephrosis with vesicoureteral reflux Vesicoureteral Reflux (VUR) Vesicoureteral reflux is retrograde passage of urine from the bladder back into the ureter and sometimes also into the renal collecting system, depending on severity. Reflux predisposes to urinary... read more may occur because the large urine volume puts pressure on the vesicoureteral junction, causing dysfunction with reflux and, in severe cases, nephropathy. Patients with high thoracic or cervical spinal cord lesions are at risk of autonomic dysreflexia (a life-threatening syndrome of malignant hypertension, bradycardia or tachycardia, headache, piloerection, and sweating due to unregulated sympathetic hyperactivity). This disorder may be triggered by acute bladder distention (due to urinary retention Urinary Retention Urinary retention is incomplete emptying of the bladder or cessation of urination. Urinary retention may be Acute Chronic Causes include impaired bladder contractility, bladder outlet obstruction... read more ) or bowel distention (due to constipation or fecal impaction).

Diagnosis of Neurogenic Bladder

  • Postvoid residual volume

  • Renal ultrasonography

  • Serum creatinine

  • Usually cystography, cystoscopy, and cystometrography with urodynamic testing

Diagnosis is suspected clinically. Usually, postvoid residual volume is measured, renal ultrasonography is done to detect hydronephrosis, and serum creatinine is measured to assess renal function.

Further studies are often not done in patients who are not able to self-catheterize or ask to go to the bathroom (eg, severely debilitated older or post-stroke patients).

In patients with hydronephrosis or nephropathy who are not severely debilitated, cystography, cystoscopy, and cystometrography with urodynamic testing are usually recommended and may guide further therapy.

Treatment of Neurogenic Bladder

  • Catheterization

  • Increased fluid intake

  • Drugs

  • Surgery if conservative measures fail

Prognosis is good if the disorder is diagnosed and treated before kidneys are damaged.

Catheterization

For flaccid bladder, especially if the cause is an acute spinal cord injury, immediate continuous or intermittent catheterization is needed. Intermittent self-catheterization is preferable to indwelling urethral catheterization, which has a high risk of recurrent UTIs and, in men, a high risk of urethritis Urethritis Bacterial urinary tract infections (UTIs) can involve the urethra, prostate, bladder, or kidneys. Symptoms may be absent or include urinary frequency, urgency, dysuria, lower abdominal pain... read more , periurethritis, prostatic abscesses, and urethral fistulas. Suprapubic catheterization Suprapubic catheterization Bladder catheterization is used to do the following: Obtain urine for examination Measure residual urine volume Relieve urinary retention or incontinence Deliver radiopaque contrast agents or... read more may be used if patients cannot self-catheterize.

Drug and other therapies

Surgery

Surgery is a last resort. It is usually indicated if patients have had or are at risk of severe acute or chronic sequelae or if social circumstances, spasticity, or quadriplegia prevents use of continuous or intermittent bladder drainage. Sphincterotomy (for men) converts the bladder into an open draining conduit. Sacral (S3 and S4) rhizotomy converts a spastic into a flaccid bladder. Urinary diversion may involve an ileal conduit or ureterostomy.

An artificial, mechanically controlled urinary sphincter, surgically inserted, is an option for patients who have adequate bladder capacity, good bladder emptying, and upper extremity motor skills and who can comply with instructions for use of the device; if patients do not comply, life-threatening situations (eg, renal failure, urosepsis) can result.

Key Points

  • Damage to the neural pathways that control voiding can render the bladder too flaccid or spastic.

  • Flaccid bladder tends to cause overflow incompetence.

  • Spastic bladder tends to cause frequency, urge incontinence and, particularly with detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia, retention.

  • Measure postvoid residual volume, do renal ultrasonography and serum creatinine measurement, and in many patients, do cystography, cystoscopy, and cystometrography with urodynamic testing.

  • Treatment for flaccid bladder includes increased fluid intake and intermittent self-catheterization.

  • Treatment for spastic bladder may include measures to trigger urination and/or measures used to treat urge incontinence (including drugs).

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