MS Awareness Week
Coping with MS and Bladder and Bowel Conditions
This week is MS Awareness Week (23 – 29 April), Multiple Sclerosis affects thousands of people across the UK. MS commonly affects the bladder and bowel but not many people talk about this aspect so we want to highlight how MS affects the bladder and bowel and what you can do to help alleviate these symptoms.
The MS Trust have launched a new campaign this awareness week to encourage young people to #speakup about having Multiple Sclerosis and we think it’s important that nobody should feel embarrassed by their condition.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological condition that causes ‘lesions’ or scarred patches of tissue in the brain and spinal cord. These lesions affect the nerves in the brain and spinal cord and signals can be disrupted or broken completely.
MS is a relatively common chronic illness with around 1 in 600 people living with the condition in the UK. The majority of people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s and the symptoms of MS can vary greatly from person to person. The most common symptoms are fatigue, numbness and weakness in the arms and legs, bladder and bowel issues and blurred vision. Symptoms may not alway be active and you may have periods of remission.
How does Multiple Sclerosis affect the bladder and bowel?
MS can disrupt the signals between the brain and the bladder or bowel. This disruption can cause a variety of issues including loss of sensation, so you are unable to tell when you need to go to the toilet, reduced control of sphincter muscles in the rectum or bladder leading to incontinence, slowing down of peristalsis, which leads to chronic constipation or reduced control of the bladder muscle that can lead to urinary retention.
Common bladder and bowel conditions associated with MS
What can I do to help my bladder and bowel symptoms?
There are many treatments available to treat the individual bladder and bowel conditions. You may first be asked to adapt your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms including reducing your intake of fizzy drinks, alcohol, sugar and caffeine to avoid irritating your bladder or bowel. Making sure you are eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fibre and drinking the recommended amount of fluid, which is between 1.5 – 2 litres per day to avoid constipation. If these conservative approaches are not sufficient then you may be prescribed medications to help keep your symptoms under control such as antispasmodics to help with bladder spasms and frequency/ urgency. You can find out more about treatments for your bladder or bowel condition on the treatments pages on the Bladder and Bowel Community website.
What the experts say
Noreen Barker is an MS Specialist Nurse at the Royal Free London NHS Trust, her top tip for dealing with MS related bladder and bowel issues is “My top tip has got to be don’t keep it a secret! They are the most common symptoms in MS, and out of all of the symptoms they are quite easily improved, if not sorted completely. I think it’s not being afraid to talk to people about it, because we can all have problems with our bowel and bladder, whether we have MS or not.”
Thank you to the MS Trust for advice and information on Multiple Sclerosis. For more information on MS and to find out how you can get involved in MS Awareness week, visit the MS Trust online, through Facebook or Twitter.