Coping With Incontinence Following A Stroke

This month is Make May Purple for Stroke Awareness and we will be highlighting this devastating illness that affects over 1.2 million people and is the leading cause of disability in the UK.

What Is A Stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack and there are two main types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic Stroke – this is caused by a blockage (such as a blood clot) to the brain’s blood supply. The lack of blood supply causes brain cells to become damaged
  • Haemorrhagic Stroke – this is caused by a blood vessel bursting within or on the surface of the brain. These types of stroke are usually more severe

A TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack) is also commonly known as a ‘mini stroke’. This has the same symptoms as a stroke but they tend to last for less than 24 hours after the blockage moves. These can indicate a warning sign that a full stroke may occur and should be treated as seriously and as quickly as a full stroke as it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

How Does A Stroke Affect You?

The effects of a stroke will depend on where the bleed or blockage is in the brain and how much damage this has caused to the brain. Some side effects of a stroke include:

  • Weakness in the arms and/or legs
  • Memory loss, speaking, reading, writing and understanding issues
  • Issues with swallowing
  • Loss of vision, headaches and fatigue
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel function
  • Neuropathy – numbness and pins and needles in fingers and toes

How Does A Stroke Affect The Bladder And Bowel?

A stroke can affect the bladder and bowel in many different ways. The part of the brain controlling the bladder and bowel may have been damaged causing the signals to misfire. If you have difficulty communicating, you may find it difficult to tell someone that you need the toilet. If you have trouble moving around then you may have difficulty reaching the toilet in time. If you are not aware of your surroundings then you may pass urine or faeces without realising.

Having a bladder or bowel problem following a stroke is very common. Around 50% of stroke survivors will go on to develop a bladder or bowel problem, so it is nothing to feel embarrassed about. The good news is that there are many treatments available to treat bladder and bowel conditions and many people will have recovered from their incontinence issues following a year after their stroke.

Some of bladder and bowel symptoms that are caused by a stroke include

  • Urgency – a sudden or uncontrollable need to pass urine, often caused by spasms in the bladder
  • Frequency – needing to pass urine frequently
  • Nocturnal Enuresis – wetting the bed at night
  • Urinary retention – an inability to pass urine
  • Stress incontinence – when you pass urine through sneezing, coughing or by means of putting the bladder under pressure. Can be caused by weak pelvic floor or sphincter muscles
  • Reflex incontinence – passing urine without realising. This is caused by the part of the brain that controls function being damaged
  • Constipation – this is a common problem if you become inactive or immobile as it causes the bowel to slow down
  • Overflow – which can be caused by constipation or faecal impaction where liquid stools flow uncontrollable around hard impacted stools that have lodged in the rectum

How Can I Treat My Bladder And Bowel Symptoms?

It is important to seek advice about any bladder and bowel issues that you are suffering from following a stroke so that it can be treated effectively. The first line of treatment will be to make sure you’re comfortable and looking at how diet and lifestyle changes may help. This may include seeking the right protection with pads or specialist underwear to keep your skin dry and stop it from getting sore from contact with urine or faeces. Reducing acidic or sugary foods and drinks, alcohol and caffeine can cause less irritation to the bladder and bowel. There are also lots of different medications that can be prescribed to treat your condition.

For specific information on treating you condition have a look at our bladder and bowel treatment pages.

How Can I Reduce My Chances Of Having A Stroke?

You can reduce your chances of having a stroke by making sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet and by being a healthy weight. Stop smoking, keep your blood pressure under control if you suffer from high blood pressure and reduce your alcohol consumption to the recommended daily allowance. If you have high cholesterol, look to reduce this by limiting your consumption of saturated fats. If you are diabetic, make sure that your blood sugar levels are as well controlled as possible.

You can find out more about strokes and the effects, plus support Make May Purple for Stroke by visiting the Stroke Association website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

You can also find information about Stroke and incontinence on the Bladder and Bowel Community website.