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Signs and Symptoms

  • By: ISA Content Team
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Bowel/Bladder Dysfunction

Neurological compromise including spinal cord injury can result in a loss of normal function of the bowel and/or bladder.  The pattern of bladder function associated with spinal cord disorders will depend on the level of compromise. Symptoms of bladder dysfunction include an inability to urinate properly, loss of balder control, and in some cases inability to urinate at all. The sense of an expanded bladder may be lost due to the inability of nerve signals  to traverse the injured area.

If the  spinal cord compromise is above the level of the T12 vertebrae it  may result in a spastic bladder resulting in spontaneous voiding. If spinal cord compromise occurs below the level of T12, the individual may have difficulty voiding the bladder as result of the loss of bladder muscle innervation. Inability to control bladder function as well as the loss of ability to void the bladder constitutes a potential medical emergency. Compromise of lower spinal nerves (cauda equina) can lead to a loss of the ability to void the bladder. This is often associated with other symptoms, such as numbness in the pelvic/perineal region and leg symptoms. An overactive bladder is often referred to as a hyporeflexive bladder or spastic bladder. The loss of bladder function is often referred to as an areflexive or flaccid bladder.

Spinal cord compromise can lead to a loss of normal anal sphincter control and subsequently abnormal bowel movements. Spontaneous bowel movements without warning can be an indication of neurologic compromise. In addition to potentially compromising bowel and/or bladder function, spinal cord compromise and peripheral neurological compromise can also have an adverse impact on sexual function. Any change in bowel and/or bladder function associated with possible or known neurological compromise should be addressed immediately by a qualified healthcare provider.



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