Spinal cord injuries (SCI) can have several life-altering effects. These effects include compromising spinal cord injury patients’ bladder control. As the National Association for Continence (NAFC) explains:
“A spinal cord injury may interrupt communication between the nerves in the spinal cord that control bladder and bowel function and the brain, causing incontinence. This results in bladder or bowel dysfunction that is termed ‘neurogenic bladder’ or ‘neurogenic bowel.’”
Neurogenic bladder is a risk associated with spinal cord injuries from all causes, including car accidents, boating accidents, falls and other traumatic events. Due to the risk of spinal cord injuries and associated bladder-related problems, it is important for accident victims to be aware of the symptoms of these conditions—and to seek medical treatment promptly upon the first sign of concern. Individuals who are diagnosed with bowel-related problems caused by spinal cord injuries should also consult with a personal injury lawyer, as they may be entitled to financial compensation for their medical bills, pain and other losses.
Understanding the Cause of Bladder-Related Problems Linked to SCI
As noted in the quote above, bladder-related problems linked to spinal cord injuries are caused by disruption of communications between the brain and the bladder. Even if the brain and the bladder are both completely unharmed (as will often be the case), this disruption can prevent the bladder from operating normally.
There are three primary ways that spinal cord injuries can disrupt communications between the brain and the bladder:
- Spinal Shock – As summarized by the NAFC, following a spinal cord injury, “the bladder usually undergoes spinal shock. Spinal shock frequently lasts at least 2 to 3 months. However, it may last 6 months, and there are a few cases of it lasting up to 2 years.” When the bladder is in spinal shock, it does not contract as it would normally. The severity and duration of spinal shock typically depend on the location and severity of an accident victim’s SCI.
- Spinal Cord Injuries Affecting the Sacral Voiding Center – The sacral region of the spine sits just above the tailbone. Within the sacral region sits the sacral voiding center, which is responsible for controlling urination. When a spinal cord injury occurs in the sacral region or above, this can block the nerve signals between the brain and the sacral voiding center.
- Brainstem Injuries – Spinal cord injuries in the cervical region (which is located in the lower neck and connects to the base of the skull) can cause damage to the brainstem. The brainstem is the area of the brain that is responsible for sending nerve signals to the bladder. As a result, when the brainstem is injured in an accident, this can lead to inhibited bladder contractions.
Common Bladder-Related Problems Caused By Spinal Cord Injuries
Each of these three types of spinal cord injuries can cause a variety of bladder-related problems. Anyone who is experiencing these problems after an accident should seek medical treatment promptly. Not only will treatment be necessary to effectively manage bladder control, but treatment may also be needed to prevent or address other potentially serious consequences of the SCI.
Common bladder-related problems caused by spinal cord injuries include:
- Frequent urination
- Involuntary or uninhibited urination (overactive bladder)
- Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)
- Inability to urinate
- Urinary tract infections (with symptoms including frequent urination, blood in the urine, lower abdomen pressure, groin pain, and feeling the need to urinate but being unable to do so)
Complications Associated with Bladder Problems Caused By Spinal Cord Injuries
Bladder problems caused by spinal cord injuries also present risks for several complications. Most of these complications are not fatal; however, they can require ongoing medical care and result in a reduced quality of life. As outlined in an article published in the journal Research and Reports in Urology, possible complications include:
- Autonomic dysreflexia
- Bladder and renal stones
- Reflux and renal insufficiency
The article also notes that “[t]he risk of bladder cancer is 20 times higher in spinal cord injury patients compared to the general population.” While bladder cancer is curable in its early stages, the authors of the article write that “the diagnosis is usually made in the more advanced stages,” and this can increase patients’ risk of fatality.
Treatment Options for Neurogenic Bladder Caused By SCI
Treatment options for bladder-related problems caused by spinal cord injuries vary depending on the location of an accident victim’s injury and its specific effects on their bladder. As outlined by the NAFC, the primary treatment methodologies for neurogenic bladder are:
- Prescription Medications – In some cases, prescription medications can be used to reduce involuntary bladder contractions, reduce frequency of urination, increase bladder storage and cause urination.
- Surgical Treatment – If the damage to the spine that is disrupting communications between the brain and the bladder can be repaired, then it may be possible to fully restore normal bladder function through surgery.
- Clean Intermittent Catheterization (CIC) – Clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) involves using a catheter to drain the bladder at regular intervals throughout the day. This can be performed by a medical professional or through self-catheterization.
- Continuous Catheter Drainage – If CIC is not an adequate form of treatment, then it may be necessary to have a catheter surgically inserted into the bladder to allow for continuous drainage.
As you might expect, all of these treatment options can be incredibly expensive, and they can have a drastic impact on accident victims’ day-to-day lives. While financial compensation will be available in many cases, accident victims need to work with experienced personal injury lawyers who can seek just compensation for them. Most successful personal injury claims result in out-of-court settlements, but in some cases victims will need to take their claims to court in order to secure the full compensation they deserve.
Speak with a Personal Injury Lawyer in Tallahassee, Tampa or West Palm Beach for Free
If you need to know more about seeking financial compensation for bladder-related problems caused by spinal cord injuries, we invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at Searcy Denney. Call 800-780-8607 or tell us how we can reach you online to schedule an appointment today in Tampa, West Palm Beach, or Tallahassee.