Spending more time than usual in the toilet? It’s just your multiple sclerosis, right? Well, yes and no. Either way, you shouldn’t just cross your legs and hope for the best.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common – especially in women (thanks for that one, Mother Nature). But if you have MS, you may be more familiar with that feeling of peeing broken glass than most.
Bladder issues are common among MS patients, affecting up to 90% of people with the condition. Some of the most common problems include urinary incontinence and frequency, both of which can put you at higher risk of developing a UTI. In fact, one study in Europe found that three in ten people with MS reported having had urinary tract infections. This may be due to nerve damage caused by MS, which can affect the signals telling the bladder to contract and void. This again may mean that you don’t always empty your bladder completely when you go to the loo, and the residual urine allows the build-up of bacteria. If you use a catheter this can be another cause of infection; disability that makes toilet hygiene tricky can also make infection more likely.
What Causes UTIs?
The most common explanation for bladder infections is bacteria entering the urinary tract– that’s your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, all together – and cause inflammation. This gives you the feeling of wanting to go to the toilet more frequently, and often a burning pain when you do.
Signs of a UTI
As well as the constant urge to pee, and that all-too-familiar burning pain, UTI symptoms include feeling generally tired or washed out, painful bladder or abdomen even when not urinating, and passing only small amounts of urine each time you go. Your pee may also appear cloudy and smell more strongly than usual.
Why UTIs Are More Serious if You Have MS
If left untreated, the bacteria can pass from the bladder up the ureters and into the kidneys, leading to a far more serious infection. In fact, UTIs are the most common reason for people with MS to be admitted to the hospital. Unfortunately, even a mild bladder infection can trigger a cascade of inflammation within the body, aggravating spasticity, and causing a relapse. In addition to this, the relapse may be more severe than usual and last longer. For this reason, recurrent infections may even be associated with the progression of neurological symptoms. Because of all of this, it’s important not to dismiss bladder changes or even blame feeling tired as “just another annoying MS symptom.”
Treatment for UTIs is usually fairly straightforward. Your doctor will test your urine for the presence of bacteria and prescribe antibiotics when necessary. Most bladder infections clear up in a matter of days, but you can make the situation less painful in the meantime by drinking plenty of water.
Having MS might make UTIs more likely, but there are ways to reduce your risk. Drinking plenty of water is one – around 6-8 glasses a day is recommended to dilute your urine and help flush out bacteria. You’ll need to drink even more in hot weather, or if you have been exercising. Paying more attention to your urination habits is also a good idea. Both men and women should urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that might have entered the urethra. Also, after using the toilet women should always wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from entering the urethra.
If you do suffer regular bladder infections, it’s definitely worth speaking to your doctor about the underlying causes. There are plenty of options for treating bladder problems for those living with MS, from medication to prevent an overactive bladder, to catheterisation to prevent incomplete emptying. Understandably, bladder issues can seriously affect quality of life, so it’s important to take action – so you don’t spend all your time en route to the toilet! Speak to your doctor about ways to improve matters today.