DefinitionNeurogenic bowel occurs when the body has problems storing and removing stool from the intestines due to nerve damage.
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CausesThe 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 BowelThis 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 BowelThis 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 FactorsSpinal cord injury is the main risk factor.
SymptomsSymptoms 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
DiagnosisYou 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.
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