Despite it being a common symptom in the multiple sclerosis population, a whopping 80 percent, bladder dysfunction is rarely discussed due to its embarrassing nature. In laymen’s terms, bladder incontinence is “wetting your pants,” and there are not many people who are comfortable talking about this subject.
However, bladder dysfunction definitely needs to be discussed, because it is a condition that can be treated. MS lesions can affect bladder function when signals between the brain and bladder muscles are blocked or delayed. When bladder dysfunction is caused by MS (or any other brain, spinal cord, or nerve condition), it is referred to as “neurogenic bladder.”
According to the National MS Society, symptoms of a neurogenic bladder can include:
- Urinary incontinence (inability to hold urine)
- Urge incontinence (when bladder spasms, causing urge to urinate, a burning sensation, or even leakage)
- Overactive bladder that leads to frequent urge to urinate and problems emptying urine from bladder
- Underactive bladder that leads to inability to tell when bladder is full, urinary retention, and also problems emptying urine from bladder
Depending on the symptoms, there are different ways to approach bladder dysfunction:
- Use of incontinence products that come in a variety of shapes and sizes (liners, pads, and briefs)
- Bladder training where a urinating routine is established
- Pelvic muscle exercises (Kegel exercises)
- Change in diet (decrease or avoid intake of caffeine, alcohol, and citrus, which can irritate the bladder)
- Medications that help relax the bladder, including anticholinergics and alpha-blockers
Understandably, the presence of bladder dysfunction can negatively impact lifestyles of people living with MS. It can start with feelings of shame and inability to discuss the problem, even with loved ones. It can lead to anxiety and avoidance of social engagements, and can disrupt normal routines. But once symptoms are recognized and addressed, relief may not be far away.
Have you experienced the embarrassment and inconvenience of bladder dysfunction?