by Brianna Flaherty
If you have multiple sclerosis, you already know that diagnosis means many visits to the doctor to manage disruptive symptoms. Over 80% of women with MS experience bladder leaks, and incontinence is often one of the first symptoms people notice. Supervision and guidance from a health professional is always key to addressing your condition, but there are also actionable ways to manage MS-related bladder leaks in your day-to-day. The first step is understanding why they’re happening in the first place:
On the most basic level, MS is an autoimmune disease that affects your nerves, so transmitters block or delay the signals that help your brain tell your body what it should be doing. Over time, your nerves become damaged, which means signals are really delayed, jumbled, or just get stopped in their tracks. When it comes to your bladder, these blocks and delays mean your brain has a challenging time controlling your pelvic floor. For you, this causes symptoms like:
frequent, intense urges to pee
having a tough time getting your flow started once you’re on the toilet
spasms that trigger a full bladder release
a bladder that never quite feels empty
Whether your leaking is MS-related or there’s no determined cause just yet, these kinds of symptoms can become frustrating fast.
Researchers, fundraisers, and experimental crusaders are still searching for an all-out cure for MS. In the meantime, there are medications, nerve stimulation procedures, and long-term surgery options that can offer relief, and there are also several lifestyle changes you can try today (as in right now!) that might help ease symptoms:
Sometimes called bladder training, planned voiding is really just putting your bladder and fluid intake on a schedule, kind of like taking a medication at a set time every day. Drinking water at specific intervals and scheduling time throughout your day to void (pee) has a few benefits. First, with a regularly emptied bladder, you can worry less about surprise leaks, and get back to enjoying the moment. Second, scheduled bladder release can help you return to a place where the act of peeing starts to feel relaxing again—not like a frustrating, anxiety-inducing standoff between you and your body.
It seems counterintuitive, but drinking more fluids can mean a less irritated bladder. Restricting fluids to try to prevent bladder leaks can actually lead to a pile-up of complications like bladder infections, dehydration, and constipation—all of which can make your bladder spasms worse.
Instead of restricting, focus on drinking the right fluids. Make sure you drink a healthy amount of water every day, and limit caffeine and bubbly drinks like champagne or seltzer that act as diuretics. All this said, there is one restriction that can work in your favor: if you’re affected by nocturia (needing to pee in the middle of the night), avoid drinking for about two hours before bed.
Easier said than done, but when you can’t stop leaks, learning to approach your body with a little more calm and acceptance can do wonders for your spirit. Anxiety about leaking can actually make leaking more frequent, which doesn’t mean living anxiety-free will make leaks go away. But the more you’re able to mediate your anxiety around leaking and accept your body’s ebbs and flows, the less energy you’ll spend on the fear, shame, and stress we’re taught to feel about pelvic health issues.
Greasy, spicy foods are (really delicious and unfortunately) irritating for your bladder. There’s no proven diet that reduces MS symptoms, but the National MS Society suggests adjusting your meals or incorporating a daily supplement to include: Vitamin D (a great immune system booster), calcium, and Omega 3’s (like fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil, which all have anti-inflammatory properties). Coincidentally, incorporating Omega 3’s and other additions like leafy greens and legumes in your diet is also beneficial for your bladder.
Again, at-home adjustments to manage MS-related leaks are no replacement for working closely with a qualified health professional, but hydrating, eating well, and doing what you can to regulate your stress levels will only serve you and your body better as you navigate your symptoms.
Are you navigating MS? How do you manage symptoms? Share your experience in the comments.
Posted: July 31, 2019