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Neurogenic bowel dysfunction after spinal cord injury: Clinical evaluation and rehabilitative management

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      Abstract

      Neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) is one of many impairments that result from spinal cord injury (SCI). The experience of persons with SCI reveals that the risk and occurrence of fecal incontinence and difficulty with evacuation are particularly significant life-limiting problems. This review relates the anatomy and physiology of colon function to the specific pathophysiology that detracts from the quality of life of persons after SCI. There are two patterns of NBD after SCI: the upper motor neuron bowel, which results from a spinal cord lesion above the sacral level, and the lower motor neuron bowel, which results from a lesion to the sacral spinal cord, roots, or peripheral nerve innervation of the colon. Rehabilitation evaluation consists of a comprehensive history and examination to define impairments, disabilities, and handicaps pertinent to NBD. Rehabilitation goals include continence of stool, simple willful independent defecation, and prevention of gastrointestinal complications. Intervention consists of derivation and implementation of an individualized person-centered bowel program, which may include diet, oral/rectal medications, equipment, and scheduling of bowel care. Bowel care is a procedure devised to initiate defecation and accomplish fecal evacuation. Digital-rectal stimulation is a technique utilized during bowel care to open the anal sphincter and facilitate reflex peristalsis. Recent advances in rehabilitation practices, equipment, pharmacology, and surgery have offered patients new bowel program alternatives. Interdisciplinary development of solutions for problems of NBD are evolving rapidly.
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