Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects everyone differently. No two people have the exact same symptoms or experiences with the disease. Since MS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, you may have a wide range of symptoms. Some are visible and can be seen by others. Others are invisible and are only seen or felt by the person with MS.
Through our Symptom Series, we’ll provide some information and tips about different symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team. Remember, your healthcare team should be your primary source for information or any questions.
Bladder and bowel dysfunction may be defined as either going to the bathroom too often or not enough. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, constipation, leakage, nocturia (frequent need to urinate at night), a slow stream, hesitancy, or often don’t feel fully empty, then you may be suffering from bladder and/or bowel dysfunction. You are not alone. Around 90% of people living with MS experience bladder-related symptoms within the first 10 years, and bowel problems are common. Although talking to your healthcare provider or loved ones about your bladder and bowel movements may feel embarrassing, you can never be too vocal when it comes to your health.
Here are some tips for dealing with bladder and bowel dysfunction you may wish to discuss with your healthcare provider:
Kegel exercises are not a proven therapy for MS. However, they may be able to help with the symptoms of bladder dysfunction. Try strengthening your pelvic floor muscles by repeatedly tightening and releasing them. Ask your healthcare provider if general exercise (such as walking) could help you regulate your bowel movements.
It's important to stay hydrated. Although drinking fluid can help maintain regular bowel function, be mindful of when you drink, as well as how much. Try to limit drinks before bed, when you are traveling for extended periods of time, and when you know you won't be near a bathroom. Also, try to limit drinks with caffeine or alcohol. These types of beverages can make it harder to control your bowel movements, and may cause more frequent and urgent urination. You don't have to completely give them up, but remember that everything is best in moderation.
You might be saying to yourself, “Doesn’t everybody have to do this anyway?” While the answer is yes, people with bladder and/or bowel difficulties may need to pay extra attention to their diets. Try to avoid foods that you know will irritate your bowel, and make sure you include enough fiber in your daily diet. There are many delicious sources of fiber, including fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Explore diet tips and recipes here.
Although we can’t always control when nature calls, you can start by becoming aware of when you’re usually using the restroom. Find your pattern and create a routine that’s aligned with your habits. Once you develop your schedule, it may help to be aware of your surroundings and where the closest restroom is located.
Understandably, managing bowel and bladder movements can feel like a chore. However, if you continue to invest in your body and put some of these tips into use with the help of your healthcare provider, you may find this can help.