How MS can affect bladder and bowel function
Bladder and bowel dysfunction can occur if nerve damage has affected the speed of nerve communication between the bladder and bowel and the brain.
- Continence refers to our ability to hold it all in. It comes from the Latin word ‘continentia’ which means ‘a holding back’, i.e. holding back bodily functions.
- Incontinence is an accidental or involuntary loss of urine from the bladder (urinary incontinence) or bowel motion, faeces or wind from the bowel (faecal or bowel incontinence). It’s a widespread condition affecting many Australians, so you shouldn’t feel alone.
- Bladder dysfunction symptoms include greater or less frequency of micturition (passing of urine), urgency, incontinence, urinary tract infections and nocturia (the need to urinate frequently overnight).
- Bowel issues can include severe constipation, faecal incontinence and diarrhea.With the right advice, you can manage these symptoms and prevent complications or associated illnesses.
Managing continence issues
There are several medications to control bladder frequency and urgency, prescribed by a doctor or continence adviser. There are also treatments to help manage constipation that you can buy over the counter. It is best to seek professional advice before purchase to ensure you use the best option for your needs.
Continence aids may help with your bladder or bowel issues. Speak with an MS nurse or continence adviser about tailored options to improve your individual situation.
Easy access at home and work
Small changes can make a big difference to bladder and bowel control issues, such as an easy-to-access toilet or bathroom.
Out and about
Peace of mind about toilet facilities and their locations can also make a big difference. Consider calling ahead to your destination to ensure there are adequate, accessible facilities or refer to the National Toilet Map.
Maintain a healthy diet
For anyone with bladder problems, it’s still important to drink plenty of water to avoid complications such as urinary tract infections or constipation. Not enough water makes urine concentrated and irritates the bladder, causing more frequent urinating. Aim to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid daily (preferably water, but discuss other safe forms of fluid with your GP), in three or four intervals. This way, you maintain your fluid intake but don’t increase frequency. Avoid too much fluid for up to two hours before bed or going out.
A healthy bowel pattern also benefits from a well-balanced, high-fibre diet of foods such as oats, fruits (fresh, stewed or dried), vegetables and wholegrain or wholemeal foods including oatmeal, rice, wheat and barley, cereals and breads, also nuts and lentils.
Regular exercise is important for everyone, especially for people with MS. Even for those with limited mobility, exercise improves your body’s blood flow, including the gut, which helps prevent constipation. Regular exercise will also help you to maintain an ideal body weight. Excess body weight applies pressure to the area around your bladder and bowel.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises are another great way to help the bowel and bladder function properly and maintain continence.
Smoking can increase coughing and, in turn, the risk of incontinence. Smoking can also cause other health problems, and has even been linked with the development and progression of MS.
What about sex?
Even with bladder and bowel issues, you and your partner can still enjoy intimacy. Discuss this with your partner or, for a tailored plan, your MS nurse or continence adviser.
If you have bladder or bowel concerns talk to your GP or MS Nurse about medication, aids, diet and lifestyle adjustments. Tell your neurologist about new and/or persistent symptoms. For serious concerns, you may be referred to a urologist (bladder) or gastroenterologist (bowel).
Contact our NeuroAssist Team
Here to help you understand MS and answer your questions.
Request a callback
Download the MSQ Continence Care fact sheet
Includes information and resources to help you manage continence, bladder and bowel dysfunction.
View our Understanding MS Bladders and Bowels webinar
Our MS Nurse explores some of the common questions about continence and MS.
Find a webinar
Read the latest news and articles on living well with MS.
Stay up to date