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Neurogenic bladder



Neurogenic bladder is a urinary problem in which the bladder does not empty properly due to a neurological condition.

See also: Urinary incontinence


Several muscles and nerves must work together for your bladder to hold urine until you're ready to empty it. Nerve messages go back and forth between the brain and the muscles that control bladder emptying. If these nerves are damaged by illness or injury, the muscles may not be able to tighten or relax at the right time.

Common causes for neurogenic bladder include:


The specific symptoms depend on the underlying neurological disorder, and may include:

Symptoms of overactive bladder:

  • Having to urinate too often in small amounts
  • Problems emptying all the urine from the bladder

Symptoms of underactive bladder:

  • Bladder becomes too full and you may leak urine
  • Problems starting to urinate or emptying all the urine from the bladder
  • Unable to tell when the bladder is full
  • Urinary retention
Signs and tests

Support Groups

See: Incontinence resources

Expectations (prognosis)

Calling your health care provider

Call you health care provider if you:

  • Are unable to empty your bladder at all
  • Have signs of a bladder infection (fever, burning when you urinate, frequent urination)
  • Urinate small amounts, frequently
  • Chronic urine leakage can cause skin breakdown and pressure sores
  • Kidney damage may occur if the bladder becomes too full, causing pressure to build up in the tubes leading to the kidneys and in the kidneys themselves
  • Urinary tract infections

Medications may help manage your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Medicines that relax the bladder (oxybutynin or propantheline) for overactive bladder
  • Medicines that make certain nerves more active (bethanechol) for underactive bladder
  • Medicines that treat infection (antibiotics) if the bladder problems lead to an infection

Your health care provider may also teach you some exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises).

Learn to recognize the symptoms of urinary infections, such as burning when you urinate, fever, low back pain on one side, and a more frequent need to urinate.

Some people with multiple sclerosis need to use a urinary catheter. This is a thin tube that is inserted into your bladder:

  • You may need a catheter to be in place all the time (indwelling catheter)
  • You may need a catheter to be placed in your bladder 4 to 6 times a day to keep your bladder from becoming too full (intermittent catheterization)

Sometimes surgery is needed. Surgeries for neurogenic bladder include:



Holroyd-Leduc JM, Tannenbaum C, Thorpe KE, et al. What type of urinary incontinence does this woman have? JAMA. 2008;299(12):1446-56.

Shamliyan TA, Kane RL, Wyman J, et al. Systematic review: randomized, controlled trials of nonsurgical treatments for urinary incontinence in women. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(6):459-73. Epub 2008 Feb 11.

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Review Date: 6/24/2009
Reviewed By: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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