Pediatric Enuresis: Neurogenic or Just Nervous?

When my almost 4 year old still wets his bed in the middle of the night, my first reaction is frustration; but, I learned that gets us nowhere fast, so now I just roll with the punches. Usually the culprit is my stubborn son’s simple refusal to go the bathroom before bed. When enuresis is secondary to neurogenic disorders or anxiety disorders, caregivers need to have even more patience with children.

Sturm and Cheng (2016) published a review on the management of neurogenic bladder in the pediatric population. Central nervous system (CNS) lesions including cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and spinal malformations, as well as pelvic tumors or anorectal malformations, can all affect normal lower urinary tract function. Children with neurogenic bladder often have the condition because of a CNS lesion. This can affect the bladder’s ability to store and empty urine, so early intervention is essential and focuses on maximizing bladder function and avoiding injury to the upper or lower urinary tracts. With older children, the goals are urinary continence and independent bladder management.

Myelomeningocele surgical prenatal closure has had minimal effect on urinary tract function, and parents are encouraged to monitor urological changes because of the child’s risk for neurogenic bladder. Clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) has reduced the morbidity in patients with neurogenic bladder. Determining which children would benefit from initiation of CIC and when medical or surgical interventions should be implemented remains a challenge. Anticholinergics have proven effective on continence and bladder compliance either orally or, more recently, intravesical administration. Surgically, autologous augmentation using the ileum or colon has shown fatal complications like bowel obstruction and bladder rupture, particularly when bladder neck procedures are performed concurrently. Robotic versus open bladder neck reconstruction has been proving more favorable in recent studies. The authors concluded more research is needed for treatment, and the goals are preservation of the upper and lower urinary tracts, optimizing quality of life (Sturm and Cheng 2016).

Considering a different side of nerves, Salehi et al., (2016) studied the relationship between primary nocturnal enuresis and child anxiety disorders. They studied 180 children with primary nocturnal enuresis (referring to children >5 years old having no urine control 6 continuous months) and 180 healthy controls. A statistically significant difference was found between the two groups regarding the frequency of generalized anxiety disorder as well as panic disorder, school phobia, social and separation anxieties, maternal anxiety history, parental history of primary nocturnal enuresis and body mass index. The authors recommended any children with primary nocturnal enuresis should be assessed and treated for generalized anxiety disorder.

The seriousness of enuresis cannot be underestimated. When the cause is neurogenic, pharmacological or surgical intervention may be warranted and lifelong urologic management is needed, especially for a healthy transition into adulthood. As common as nocturnal bed wetting may be in school aged children, they should be monitored for the presence of any anxiety disorders that may be contributing to the disorder. Changing sheets may feel like a burden for parents, but the child with enuresis has a far greater weight to bear.

You can learn all about caring for pediatric patients by attending Pediatric Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction with Dawn Sandalcidi, available twice in 2017.

Sturm, R. M., & Cheng, E. Y. (2016). The Management of the Pediatric Neurogenic Bladder. Current Bladder Dysfunction Reports, 11, 225–233.
Salehi, B., Yousefichaijan, P., Rafeei, M., & Mostajeran, M. (2016). The Relationship Between Child Anxiety Related Disorders and Primary Nocturnal Enuresis. Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, 10(2), e4462.

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