What is Atonic Bladder?

Home Medically Reviewed by Edith Anderson, RN

Atonic bladders are large bladders that have become dilated but are not emptying properly. The origin of this type of bladder malfunction often has something to do with an obstruction or a disturbance to the natural innervation of the organ. Because the ability to urinate is impaired, an individual suffering with an atonic bladder will experience a great deal of pain.

Sometimes referred to as a flaccid bladder, the condition can develop when some other ongoing health issue impairs the ability of the nerves in the bladder to relay the proper signals to the brain. This failure of the nerves to signal the brain causes urine to build up in the bladder. The result is a dilated bladder that creates significant discomfort.
Several specific conditions can help create this flaccid or atonic bladder. The presence of diabetes is sometimes a factor, as is Multiple Sclerosis. In the event of some type of damage to the spinal cord, the ability of the nerves to signal properly may be impaired.

There is also the possibility that an atonic bladder develops due to some type of obstruction. For men, an enlarged prostate may place pressure on the urinary system, making it almost impossible for urination to take occur. The presence of tumors in the area may also limit the ability of the bladder to function properly.

Regardless of the root cause for the problem, it is important to seek medical assistance when the bladder becomes obstructed. After identifying the reason for the atonic bladder, physicians can employ several different methods to alleviate the pressure and allow the urine to be discharged. Catheterization is one solution. This may involve treatment at a medical facility or learning how to utilize a catheter at home.

When a catheter is not an option, other treatments for an atonic bladder may be employed. Most of them involve applying pressure on the bladder, effectively forcing the urine to discharge. This many involve manually applying external pressure to the region of the organ, or learning to utilize the abdominal muscles to force the stored urine to expel.

In general, surgery is considered an option only after other treatments have failed to produce results. In some cases, the size of the bladder is enhanced, making it possible to function for longer periods between catheterization sessions. Other methods alter the bladder in a manner that makes it easier to self-catheterize, making it possible for the patient to manage the bladder problem at home.
Research into other treatments for an atonic bladder are currently taking place. This includes the development of injections that can help trigger the natural function of the bladder, producing the same result as if the nerves in the bladder had communicated properly with the brain.