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Neurogenic Bladder

Neurogenic bladder describes a variety of bladder problems due to changes to the nerves and muscles that control urination.

Nerves carry messages from the bladder to the brain to let it know when the bladder is full. They also carry messages from the brain to the bladder, telling muscles either to tighten or release. A nerve problem might affect your bladder control if the nerves that are supposed to carry messages between the brain and the bladder do not work properly.

What bladder control problems does nerve damage cause?

Nerve control of bladder - neurogenic bladder

1) Overactive bladder

Damaged nerves may send signals to the bladder at the wrong time, causing its muscles to squeeze without warning. The symptoms of overactive bladder include:

2) Poor control of sphincter muscles

Sphincter muscles surround the urethra and keep it closed to hold urine in the bladder. If the nerves to the sphincter muscles are damaged, the muscles may become loose and allow leakage or stay tight when you are trying to release urine.

3) Urine retention

For some people, nerve damage means their bladder muscles do not get the message that it is time to release urine or are too weak to completely empty the bladder. If the bladder becomes too full, urine may back up and the increasing pressure may damage the kidneys. Or urine that stays too long may lead to an infection in the kidneys or bladder. Urine retention may also lead to overflow incontinence.

What causes nerve damage?

Many events or conditions can damage nerves and nerve pathways. Some of the most common causes are:

In addition, some children are born with nerve problems that can keep the bladder from releasing urine, leading to urinary infections or kidney damage.

How will the doctor test for nerve damage and bladder control problems?

If nerve damage is suspected, the doctor may need to test both the bladder itself and the nervous system, including the brain. Three different kinds of tests might be used:

What are the treatments for overactive bladder?

The treatment for a bladder control problem depends on the cause of the nerve damage and the type of voiding dysfunction that results.

In the case of overactive bladder, your doctor may suggest a number of strategies, including bladder training, electrical stimulation, drug therapy, and, in severe cases where all other treatments have failed, surgery.

Bladder training. Your doctor may ask you to keep a bladder diary—a record of your fluid intake, trips to the bathroom, and episodes of urine leakage. This record may indicate a pattern and suggest ways to avoid accidents by making a point of using the bathroom at certain times of the day—a practice called timed voiding. As you gain control, you can extend the time between trips to the bathroom. Bladder training also includes Kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles that hold in urine.

Electrical stimulation. Mild electrical pulses can be used to stimulate the nerves that control the bladder and sphincter muscles. Depending on which nerves the doctor plans to treat, these pulses can be given through the vagina or anus, or by using patches on the skin. Another method is a minor surgical procedure to place the electric wire near the tailbone. This procedure involves two steps. First, the wire is placed under the skin and connected to a temporary stimulator, which you carry with you for several days. If your condition improves during this trial period, then the wire is placed next to the tailbone and attached to a permanent stimulator under your skin.

Medications. Different medication can affect the nerves and muscles of the urinary tract in different ways.

Drugs that relax bladder muscles and prevent bladder spasms include oxybutynin chloride (Ditropan), tolterodine (Detrol), hyoscyamine (Levsin), and propantheline bromide (Pro-Banthine), which belong to the class of drugs called anticholinergics.

Their most common side effect is dry mouth, although large doses may cause blurred vision, constipation, a faster heartbeat, and flushing.

A  patch delivery system for oxybutynin (Oxytrol) may decrease side effects. Ditropan XL and Detrol LA are timed-release formulations that deliver a low level of the drug continuously in the body. These drugs have the advantage of once-a-day administration. Trospium chloride (Sanctura), darifenacin (Enablex), and solifenacin succinate (VESIcare) may also be prescribed for the treatment of overactive bladder.

Tricyclic antidepressants, such a imipramine, are medications used to treat depression that can also help control overactive bladders. Side effects may include fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and insomnia.

Surgery. In extreme cases, when incontinence is severe and other treatments have failed, surgery may be considered. The bladder may be made larger through an operation known as augmentation cystoplasty, in which a part of the diseased bladder is replaced with a section taken from the patient’s bowel. This operation may improve the ability to store urine but may make the bladder more difficult to empty, making regular catheterization necessary. Additional risks of surgery include the bladder breaking open and leaking urine into the body, bladder stones, mucus in the bladder, and infection.

How do you do Kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles that hold up the bladder and keep it closed.

The first step in doing Kegel exercises is to find the right muscles. Imagine you are trying to stop yourself from passing gas. Squeeze the muscles you would use. If you sense a “pulling” feeling, those are the right muscles for pelvic exercises.

Try not to squeeze other muscles at the same time. Be careful not to tighten your stomach, legs, or buttocks. Squeezing the wrong muscles can put more pressure on your bladder control muscles. Just squeeze the pelvic muscles. Don’t hold your breath.

At first, find a quiet spot to practice—your bathroom or bedroom—so you can concentrate. Pull in the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of 3. Then relax for a count of 3. Repeat, but don’t overdo it. Work up to 3 sets of 10 repeats. Start doing your pelvic muscle exercises lying down. This position is the easiest because the muscles do not need to work against gravity. When your muscles get stronger, do your exercises sitting or standing. Working against gravity is like adding more weight.

Be patient. Don’t give up. It takes just 5 minutes a day. You may not feel your bladder control improve for 3 to 6 weeks. Still, most people do notice an improvement after a few weeks.

Some people with nerve damage cannot tell whether they are doing Kegel exercises correctly. If you are not sure, ask your doctor or nurse to examine you while you try to do them. If you are not squeezing the right muscles, you can still learn proper Kegel exercises by doing special training with biofeedback, electrical stimulation, or both.

What are the treatments for lack of coordination between the bladder and urethra?

The job of the sphincter muscles is to hold urine in the bladder by squeezing the urethra shut. If the urethral sphincter fails to stay closed, urine may leak out of the bladder. When nerve signals are coordinated properly, the sphincter muscles relax to allow urine to pass through the urethra as the bladder contracts to push out urine. If the signals are not coordinated, the bladder and the sphincter may contract at the same time, so urine cannot pass easily.

Drug therapy for an uncoordinated bladder and urethra. Scientists have not yet found a drug that works selectively on the urethral sphincter muscles, but drugs used to reduce muscle spasms or tremors are sometimes used to help the sphincter relax. Baclofen (Lioresal) is prescribed for muscle spasms or cramping in patients with multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries. Diazepam (Valium) can be taken as a muscle relaxant or to reduce anxiety. Drugs called alpha-adrenergic blockers can also be used to relax the sphincter. Examples of these drugs are alfuzosin (UroXatral), tamsulosin (Flomax), terazosin (Hytrin), and doxazosin (Cardura). The main side effects are low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, and nasal congestion. All of these drugs have been used to relax the urethral sphincter in people whose sphincter does not relax well on its own.

Botox injection. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is best known as a cosmetic treatment for facial wrinkles. Doctors have also found that botulinum toxin is useful in blocking spasms like eye ticks or relaxing muscles in patients with multiple sclerosis. Doctors have found that injecting botulinum toxin into the tissue surrounding the sphincter can help it to relax.

What are the treatments for urine retention?

Urine retention may occur either because the bladder wall muscles cannot contract or because the sphincter muscles cannot relax.


Reference: NIDDK