Some of the most embarrassing, common and even dangerous symptoms of multiple sclerosis make us feel “dysfunctional.”
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system which can affect many aspects of a person’s body and their life – bladder and bowels included.
It’s always piqued my caprice macabre that the ever-encroaching, ever-worsening symptoms of my MS are referred to as ‘progression’. I find it odd how over-function, under-function and non-function of the bowels and bladder in MS can be called “dysfunction”.
Although bladder and bowel concerns manifest in different ways, symptoms of dysfunction in the bladder and bowel due to MS are quite similar in their result:
Over activity of these systems leads to urgency (I have to go… NOW), frequency (I have to go… AGAIN) and incontinence (I guess I had to go) are one side of the equation.
Under activity can lead to hesitation, retention/constipation and failure to fully empty.
In both cases it is usually the pathways that connect the brain to the sphincter muscle (which opens and closes on command when healthy) and the sensory nerves of the systems that are affected by MS. The nerves that control our bladder and bowel function are very long; longer than those which control our legs, in fact. It’s no wonder, with so much area to be attacked by MS, that over 80% of people living with this disease report some sort of issue with their bladder or bowels
The over-activity of our systems can and is usually recognized. If you’re going more often, feeling like everything is normal and then Must Go NOW, or are waking several times in the night to go, then you should consider seeking help from your doctor.
Odd as it may seem, the more severe symptoms of over-activity —incontinence—is so embarrassing that some people may be more inclined to seek medical advice more quickly with minor symptoms of overactive/spastic bladder then for incontinence.
When our symptoms are from underactivity, that’s when many people with MS think everything is fine—or don’t think of it at all.
We can’t know if we’re not emptying fully without having that checked (though frequent urges with small return can be a symptom of underactivity). Not emptying the bladder can cause recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and repeated UTIs can lead to more permanent damage. And not moving our bowels regularly has its own set of painful and dangerous results.
As if infections and constipation are not enough with which to cope, reduced or total lack of physical sensation in the area due to MS can cause us to not feel that something is going wrong even if it gets serious. Infections can cause dehydration; they can travel up the system to our kidneys and cause fevers that can raise all kinds of havoc for people with multiple sclerosis.
Likewise, restricted mobility can keep us from moving our bodies around which helps with the digestive process. If a person spends much of a day sitting in a chair or scooter for most of the day, detrimental consequences to bowel health and function can follow.
It is so important that we not risk our overall health for the sake of humility. Many bowel and bladder symptoms of MS can be easily attended to well before they become severe. Not talking to our docs about concerns early and hiding behind the bathroom door seems rather childish and, let’s face it, MS makes us wise beyond our years.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.