Coping With Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction
- by Dr. Travis
- June 03, 2019
Dr. Travis is a paid spokesperson for Teva Neuroscience, Inc.
Some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) may be more common than you think, but often go unspoken between patients and neurologists. For over 17 years, I have been practicing neurology and I’m also an advocate in the MS community. I connect with patients through public speaking events and I’m often approached by men and women who save certain questions for after my talks because they were too embarrassed to bring them up in front of the crowd. Many of these questions are related to a topic that is not commonly addressed: bowel and bladder dysfunction in MS patients.
When I mention MS can affect the bowel and bladder, people are sometimes shocked, having thought their personal problems with bladder leakage or constipation were unique to them and never suspecting there might be a link to their MS. You don’t have to be embarrassed by this common symptom. In fact, there are many ways to be prepared while managing bowel and bladder dysfunction.
MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Damage to areas of the CNS may produce a variety of symptoms that can vary among people with MS in type and severity. These symptoms can include tingling, numbness, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and more. MS interrupts or slows the transmission of signals to and from the brain. Electrical impulses to the muscles that are involved in emptying our bladder or bowel can become disrupted.
I often hear from my patients that the most common bladder symptom they experience is a greater urgency and frequency to urinate, also known as urinary urgency. Some patients may experience urinary incontinence (the unintentional leaking or loss of urine), urinary hesitancy (the feeling you can’t begin your urinary stream normally), or incomplete emptying of the bladder.
Likewise, bowel problems commonly occur in people living with MS and may cause a great amount of discomfort and embarrassment when outside the home. Bowel problems can include loss of bowel control, diarrhea, and constipation. Constipation can be caused by inadequate fluid intake, reduced physical activity, decreased or slowed “motility” and certain medications. Loss of bowel control could be nerve related (or related to constipation) and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. It’s important to share your concerns with your healthcare provider to help establish an effective bowel management plan.
When it comes to sharing knowledge, I love to encourage my fellow neurologists to ask our patients about their bladder and bowel function. We are trained to help ensure that our MS patients have the support they need to manage their symptoms properly. Remember, there are many ways to help manage your MS symptoms, like exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, and saving time for self-care.
Most importantly, remember that you have a voice, so speak with your neurologist and primary care doctor regarding any questions you have about your MS, including bowel and bladder dysfunction.
Lori Hendin Travis, MD