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Bladder Disturbance: A Red Flag Symptom

bladder disturbance

Why is the bladder affected?

The sensation an individual gets when needing to urinate and the function of urinating is controlled by the cauda equina nerves. These nerves are located at the lower end of the spinal cord. When the cauda equina nerves become compressed or squashed, an individual may experience a loss of bladder function.

You can learn about the potential causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome on our website here.

What sort of problems do people experience with bladder disturbance?

Individuals may experience varying degrees of the following problems:

  • Losing the sensation of needing to urinate or loss of sensation when passing urine. This can lead to individuals urinating without knowing and subsequently experiencing accidents.
  • Difficulty emptying the bladder which can cause straining.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) as there may be incomplete emptying of the bladder.
  • Inability to urinate and difficulty initiating urination. This may require the need to self-catheterise to ensure that the bladder is empty and to prevent incontinence.

Katie’s Story

“An epidural went wrong during the birth of my daughter. I was left undiagnosed for 3 months and was turned away by hospitals and GPs. I was told that I was a hysterical new mother and that every woman suffers the same pain after childbirth.

It was only when I became paralysed, lost use of my bowels and bladder and was in unimaginable pain that I was taken seriously and rushed to hospital for emergency surgery but by then the damage was done.

I have no sensation in my lower limbs, I am numb all over my saddle area, I have to self catheterise and I use many laxatives to open my bowels. It’s been 6 years now and I am still in constant pain. I have to use crutches, a wheelchair or a mobility scooter just to get around.

If it wasn’t for my husband, my parents, a few good friends and my beautiful daughter, life would be unbearable. Even now when I see a new doctor I still witness them “Googling” cauda equina as they don’t know what it is or are unsure. More needs to be done to ensure people aren’t just sent home with painkillers or ignored.”

What you should do if you experience bladder disturbance

Seek immediate medical care from your GP or nearest A&E department. They should be able to diagnose whether you are suffering from symptoms of cauda equina syndrome.

How is Cauda Equina Syndrome treated

Cauda Equina Syndrome is a surgical emergency.

Surgery must be done quickly to prevent permanent damage. It is best if surgery occurs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. You may hear the surgical procedure being called a laminectomy. During a laminectomy part of the vertebra (called the lamina) is removed. This opens up the space surrounding the cauda equina nerves and relieves pressure on the cauda equina nerves.

There are several causes of cauda equina and depending on the cause of an individual’s CES, a patient may also require other treatment. This could include treatment such as high doses of corticosteroids to reduce swelling, antibiotics if you are diagnosed with an infection and potentially radiation or chemotherapy if a tumor was the cause.

Can bladder symptoms be reversed after surgery?

Everybody is different.

Some individuals may notice an improvement straightaway in their bladder function.

Some individuals may notice an improvement in their bladder function over a period of time – perhaps as long as two years or more.

Unfortunately, there are some individuals that may find their bladder function does not improve fully or at all.

If surgery is received before an individual completely loses their bladder function, there is a better chance that the individual may recover from bladder disturbance.

If you would like to know more about any of the other red flag signs and symptoms look out for our upcoming articles and articles published previously.