Neurogenic bowel occurs when the body has problems storing and removing stool from the intestines due to nerve damage.
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.
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.
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 he needs to have a bowel movement. Also, the reflex may be reduced, so the rectum has a difficult time emptying stool. This can lead to constipation.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume they are due to neurogenic bowel. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
Your doctor will:
Tests may include:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Your doctor will work with you to set up a bowel program. This program will help by:
With the program, you may:
The main types of medicines to treat neurogenic bowel include:
The types of medicines you will take will depend on certain factors, such as the type of neurogenic bowel you have, other medicines you may be taking, and your diet.
Digital stimulation is done to encourage movement of the bowels by stimulating the rectum. With this procedure, the doctor will insert his gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum. He will slowly move his finger in a circle. Other types of stimulation include:
National Association for Continence
United Spinal Association
BC Health Guide
Canadian/American Spinal Research Organization
Benevento BT, Sipski ML. Neurogenic bladder, neurogenic bowel, and sexual dysfunction in people with spinal cord injury. Phys Ther. 2002;82(6):601-612.
LaRusso L. Neurogenic bladder—adult. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 20, 2010. Accessed January 26, 2011.
Neurogenic bowel management in adults with spinal cord injury. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=850. Updated December 1, 1998. Accessed June 26, 2011.
Neurogenic bowel: what you should know. A guide for people with spinal cord injury. Consortium for Spinal Cord Medicine website. Available at: http://www.scicpg.org/cpg_cons_pdf/BWLC.pdf. Accessed June 26, 2011.
Last reviewed March 2013 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.