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Bladder problems

Bladder management

Urinary system

Changes to your Bladder

Following a spinal cord injury or illness, you may experience bladder and bowel problems. The brain and spinal cord play a key role in controlling bodily functions, so any damage to the spine will result in changes to your bladder. About 80% of people who have sustained an SCI will experience bladder dysfunction.

When no messages to contract the bladder are received, then the bladder is not emptying, and it retains urine. The urine must be emptied to maintain health and prevent damage to the kidneys, this is most often achieved using intermittent catheterisation.

Depending on the level of your injury, your bladder will function differently to how it did before you had an SCI. You will either have a flaccid bladder – where the bladder will not empty automatically when full. Or a reflex bladder – where the bladder empties spontaneously when full.

Typical symptoms of urinary problems associated with an SCI

  • Small or large amounts of urine leaking without warning or without feeling the urge to go to the toilet
  • Inability of the bladder to empty completely
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

A good source of information is the Back on Track handbook, which you will receive while you are in the spinal unit. You will also be assessed by the Urology team who will help you find solutions and give options, so you can get back to a normal life.