Take Control of MS-Related Bladder and Bowel Problems


Gina Garippo

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Man in bathroom

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS) and have experienced issues with bladder or bowel control, you are not alone. It’s estimated that 85%t of people with MS struggle with bladder or bowel problems after diagnosis. The good news is that these issues don’t need to hold you back from living a full, active life. There’s much you can do to manage bathroom problems—and possibly even prevent them.

Be Honest with Your Doctor

It may be a little embarrassing to talk with your doctor about your bathroom habits. But if you’re experiencing problems, it’s important to let your doctor know right away. The sooner you seek treatment, the easier the problem will be to resolve.

Like most symptoms of MS, bladder and bowel problems differ from person to person—from the type of problem to its severity. Common issues include leaking urine, frequent urination, and strong, sudden urges to go. They can also include constipation or problems controlling your bowels. Your doctor is used to discussing these issues and can tailor a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Take Charge of Your Bladder and Bowel

One of the best ways to manage bladder and bowel problems is to make simple lifestyle changes. This is important even if you don’t currently have serious issues. By establishing good habits now, you may be able to prevent problems later on.

Tips for Bladder Control

It’s possible to take control of your bladder, but limiting your fluid intake is not the answer. A lack of fluid can cause a host of health problems, such as an increased risk for bladder infections. Not only are bladder infections uncomfortable, increasing the urge to go, but they may also up the risk for MS symptoms like spasticity and fatigue.

For good health, aim to drink six to eight cups of water a day. Then, try these healthy bladder habits:

  • Tame constant sipping. Although water is important, try not to sip continually through the day. This increases how often you have to go to the bathroom. Instead, drink larger amounts of fluid at one time. For example, drink an entire cup or two of water with lunch, then put the glass away.  

  • Time your intake. People tend to void urine about two hours after drinking. To avoid having to go when a bathroom isn’t convenient, do the math ahead of time. For example, stop drinking two hours before an airplane flight or before bedtime.

  • Get on schedule. To help avoid bladder accidents, retrain your bladder by going to the bathroom on a regular schedule, such as every two hours. This is important whether you need to go or not. It can help increase the amount of time between emptying your bladder, as well as the amount of fluids your bladder can hold.  

  • Reduce irritants. Cut down on or eliminate drinks that irritate your bladder, including alcohol and beverages with caffeine and the artificial sweetener aspartame. And if you smoke, get help to quit. It also irritates the bladder.

Tips for Better Bowel Health  

Some people deal with loose stools, while others can’t go at all. For healthy, balanced bowel movements, try these tips:

  • Focus on fiber. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and bran cereal, which make it easier to go to the bathroom. Make sure to drink plenty of water, which is necessary for the fiber to work effectively. If you’re counting, aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day.
  • Consider probiotics. Probiotics are reported to help strengthen your intestines against infections, reduce gas production, boost your immune system, and restore the “good bacteria” in your gut for regularity. Look for dairy and nondairy products loaded with live cultures, such as yogurt and kefir. 
  •  Avoid irritating fare. Stay away from greasy or spicy foods, as well as foods that you can’t tolerate well. They can lead to loose stools.
  • Get moving. Regular exercise helps move along the digestive process.

Remember, you don’t have to accept bladder and bowel issues as a way of life. Talk with your doctor and take steps to manage the problem.


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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 13, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Bladder Retraining. Interstitial Cystitis Association.  www.ichelp.org/Page.aspx?pid=368
  2. Food For Thought: MS and Nutrition. National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Programs-and-Services/Resources/Food-for-Thought%e2%80%94MS-and-Nut...
  3. Maintaining Dignity with Bladder and Bowel Problems. Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. http://www.msfocus.org/article-details.aspx?articleID=333
  4. Symptoms. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/about-multiple-sclerosis/what-we-know-about-ms/symptoms/index.aspx
  5.  You Can…Get Control of Bladder and Bowel Problems. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/living-with-multiple-sclerosis/you-can/control-bladder/index.aspx

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