Continence Confidence

14th June 2019

If you have issues with going to the toilet too much or not enough, you are not alone. 70-90 per cent of people with MS have issues with their bladder and/or bowel health.

Damage to nerve pathways can interfere with signals from the bladder and bowel. The bladder is trying to let the brain know it’s time to use the toilet, from a complex system of messages via the spinal cord into the brain. These messages are sometimes blocked until it’s too late, or they might tell your body to do one thing when it’s meant to do another.

Continence problems can be caused by other things, not just MS! In many cases, you can prevent incontinence by making healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

Drink well

Make sure to keep drinking plenty of water! If you have problems with bladder control, it may be tempting to drink less fluid; but this can concentrate your urine and actually make the problem worse. Aim to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid daily in three or four intervals. This way, you are drinking enough but won’t increase frequency. Avoid too much fluid for up to two hours before bed or going out.

Read our article on 11 easy ways to drink more water.

Eat a healthy diet

Add plenty of fibre to your diet! A high fibre diet improves bowel function by absorbing water and adding bulk to your stools to avoid constipation. Fibre is found in foods such as multi-grain or whole-grain breads, cereals and cereal products, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and seeds.

Get two serves of fruit, five serves of veggies, and five serves of grains into your diet every day to keep your bowels healthy. Don’t forget the more fibre you eat, the more water you need to drink (see above).

Lead a positive lifestyle

Keep your weight on track and quit smoking! Maintain an ideal body weight with a body mass index of 25 or less. Excess body fat strains the pelvic floor and can lead to bladder and bowel control problems. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian for advice on safe ways to lose weight.

Long term coughing problems caused by smoking can also weaken the muscles in the pelvic floor. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for information on quitting smoking and managing chronic cough.

Get active

Exercise for 30 minutes most days! Exercise (even gentle exercise like walking) stimulates movement of the bowel. It’s also important to do your pelvic floor muscle exercises regularly. Obesity, pregnancy, childbirth, regular heavy lifting, and a chronic cough can all weaken the pelvic floor, but you can strengthen this area with specific exercises. It is important you educate yourself on the right technique, and are engaging the right pelvic muscle groups.

Practice good toilet habits

  • Go to the toilet as soon as you get the urge to open your bowels—this is the most effective time.
  • Get into the correct sitting position on the toilet—elbows on knees, lean forward and support your feet with a footstool.
  • Avoid constipation—if you often strain, the pelvic floor stretches and weakens over time.
  • Only go to the toilet when you need to—avoid going ‘just in case’.
  • Visit your doctor as soon as you suspect a urinary tract infection.
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Continence Confidence