Bladder problems in MS

Bladder problems are common in MS, but there is usually something that can be done.

There are two main types of bladder problems in MS:

Doctors don't know why some people get one and not the other, or why some people get a bit of both.

Orange toilet in the countryside

If everything is working as it should, bladder control is something most people tend to take for granted. When your bladder is getting full, a warning system between your brain and bladder tells you that you should go to the toilet – and you can usually ‘hold on’ until you get to one.

The muscles in the bladder need to work in coordination with each other when storing and emptying. One relaxes while the other contracts.

Problems with storage

When the nerve pathways in the spine are interrupted, even a small amount of urine in the bladder can cause it to contract. This causes a need to urinate frequently – known as frequency.

Another problem is an inability to ‘hold on’, called urgency. If this is severe, urgency incontinence will be a problem.

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Problems with emptying

The other main type of bladder disorder is to do with emptying. If the bladder muscles don't work in coordination, this can  make urine flow poor and interrupted, and your bladder may not empty incompletely.

If your bladder isn’t emptying completely, you may not be able to feel it. However, if you need to go to the toilet for a second time only a short while later and you’re passing a similar amount of urine, this could be a sign that your bladder isn’t emptying fully. Urine left in the bladder – this is called ‘the residual’ – stimulates further bladder contractions and can add to problems of urgency and frequency.

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

If you have bladder problems, it’s important to be tested for a urinary tract infection (UTI), as the symptoms of a UTI can be very similar to bladder problems caused directly by MS – such as needing to go to the toilet frequently. An infection can also make MS symptoms, including bladder problems, worse. A UTI causes the urine to go cloudy and smelly, and some people may also have pain on passing urine, though not everyone.

Infections can usually be treated with antibiotics.

>> Read about managing bladder problems.

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Page last updated: 18 Sep 2017

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