Detrusor Underactivity and the Underactive Bladder: A New Clinical Entity? A Review of Current Terminology, Definitions, Epidemiology, Aetiology, and Diagnosis

Nadir I. Osman, Christopher R. Chapple*, Paul Abrams, Roger Dmochowski, Francois Haab, Victor Nitti, Heinz Koelbl, Philip van Kerrebroeck, Alan J. Wein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context: Detrusor underactivity (DU) is a common cause of lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) in both men and women, yet is poorly understood and underresearched. Objective: To review the current terminology, definitions, and diagnostic criteria in use, along with the epidemiology and aetiology of DU, as a basis for building a consensus on the standardisation of current concepts. Evidence acquisition: The Medline and Embase databases were searched for original articles and reviews in the English language pertaining to DU. Search terms included underactive bladder, detrusor underactivity, impaired detrusor contractility, acontractile detrusor, detrusor failure, detrusor areflexia, raised PVR [postvoid residual], and urinary retention. Selected studies were assessed for content relating to DU. Evidence synthesis: A wide range of terminology is applied in contemporary usage. The only term defined by the standardisation document of the International Continence Society (ICS) in 2002 was the urodynamic term detrusor underactivity along with detrusor acontractility. The ICS definition provides a framework, considering the urodynamic abnormality of contraction and how this affects voiding; however, this is necessarily limited. DU is present in 9-48% of men and 12-45% of older women undergoing urodynamic evaluation for non-neurogenic LUTS. Multiple aetiologies are implicated, affecting myogenic function and neural control mechanisms, as well as the efferent and afferent innervations. Diagnostic criteria are based on urodynamic approximations relating to bladder contractility such as maximum flow rate and detrusor pressure at maximum flow. Other estimates rely on mathematical formulas to calculate isovolumetric contractility indexes or urodynamic "stop tests.'' Most methods have major disadvantages or are as yet poorly validated. Contraction strength is only one aspect of bladder voiding function. The others are the speed and persistence of the contraction. Conclusions: The term detrusor underactivity and its associated symptoms and signs remain surrounded by ambiguity and confusion with a lack of accepted terminology, definition, and diagnostic methods and criteria. There is a need to reach a consensus on these aspects to allow standardisation of the literature and the development of optimal management approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-398
JournalEuropean Urology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Detrusor underactivity
  • Underactive bladder
  • Detrusor failure
  • Chronic urinary retention

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