Bladder and bowel function in MS
Most, but not all people with MS will encounter problems with bladder or bowel function. These can affect daily routines and reduce quality of life. But the majority can be treated effectively with medication and/or simple lifestyle changes.
Leaving these problems untreated could make them worse. So if you have MS and experience problems with your bladder or bowel, it’s best to seek timely professional advice from your GP, healthcare advisor or MS Nurse.
Most bladder problems link to the muscular bladder wall, which is important for expelling urine effectively. In MS, the bladder muscle can become overactive or "sensitive", causing feelings of urgency and possible urine leaks.
Some people try to manage urgency by drinking less during the day. This is not advisable, because:
- if urine in the bladder becomes too concentrated, it’s likely to trigger episodes of urgency
- it may cause dehydration, which can also heighten symptoms.
Current guidance is to drink little and often, and to plan your route when out and about!
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Infections can be a feature of MS bladder function. And some MS symptoms may get worse if you have a UTI, although they do generally improve again on treatment.
Keeping a regular flow of urine is important to avoid infections, so it’s good to stay hydrated.
Seek professional advice if your urine looks cloudy or has a strong smell. You can treat with antibiotics if a urine sample shows you to have an infection.
Slow or intermittent urination
If you have trouble urinating, and the stream is slow or intermittent you should also seek professional advice. You may not be completely emptying your bladder when you urinate, which can cause long-term problems, including kidney infections.
Bowel problems in MS are usually caused by constipation, rather than bowel incontinece, although people with MS may struggle with both.
You can minimise the likelihood of constipation by maintaining a well-balanced diet with fibre from cereals, fruit and vegetables. Drinking lots of fluids while avoiding too many caffeinated drinks is also helpful.
Some medicines can also cause constipation. It’s always best to take note of any continence problems and discuss them with a professional MS specialist.