Definition

Neurogenic bowel occurs when the body has problems storing and removing stool from the intestines due to nerve damage.

Intestines

Normal Anatomy of the Large and Small Intestine

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Causes

The digestion process is partly managed by messages sent between the brain and digestive system. These messages are sent through nerves. When these nerves are damaged, messages between the brain and digestive system are blocked. This prevents the bowels from working properly.

The spinal cord runs from the base of the brain to the lower back. There are two main types of neurogenic bowel, depending on where along the spinal cord the damage occurs.

Reflexic Bowel

This happens when there is damage around the neck or chest. Messages between the colon (large intestine) and the brain are interrupted. As a result, a person may not feel the need to have a bowel movement. However, stool is still building up in the rectum. The build-up triggers a reflex causing the rectum and colon to react, leading to a bowel movement without warning.

Areflexic Bowel

This happens when there is damage around the lower end of the spinal cord. When these lower nerves are damaged, a person is unable to feel when a bowel movement is needed. Also, the reflex may be reduced, so the rectum has a difficult time emptying stool. This can lead to constipation.

Risk Factors

Spinal cord injury is the main risk factor.

Symptoms

Symptoms of neurogenic bowel may include:

    
  • Trouble having a bowel movement
  • Repeated bowel accidents
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Feeling full (not hungry) quickly
  • Loose stools or very hard stools
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A rectal exam may also be done.

    Your waste products may be tested. This can be done with stool tests.

    Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

    Bowel Program

    Your doctor will work with you to set up a bowel program. This program will help by:

        
  • Providing effective ways to have a bowel movement
  • Preventing bowel accidents
  • Establishing a predictable bowel movement schedule
  • With the program, you may:

        
  • Follow a certain diet and physical activity plan
  • Be given a combination of medications to promote bowel function
  • Undergo digital stimulation to cause a bowel movement
  • Work with your healthcare team to find an ideal time for going to the bathroom and position to use when having a bowel movement
  • Participate in other methods to encourage bowel movement, such as doing push-ups, massaging the abdomen, deep breathing, drinking warm fluids, and sitting in a forward-leaning position
  • Medication

    Common medications to treat neurogenic bowel include:

        
  • Stool softeners to make bowel movement easier
  • Colonic stimulants to stimulate the colon to move the stool through the digestive tract faster
  • Osmotic laxatives to pull water into the intestines to increase stool bulk
  • Bulk formers to ncrease stool bulk
  • The types of medications you will take will depend on certain factors, such as the type of neurogenic bowel you have, other medications you may be taking, and your diet.