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Multiple Sclerosis and Bladder Control Problems

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Multiple Sclerosis and Bladder Control Problems

Dec 31, 2015

Bladder dysfunction is a common problem for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Whether it’s constipation or fecal incontinence, health problems related to the bladder are uncomfortable for anyone. So how to you know if your bladder issue is related to MS or not? And if it is related, can it lead to more serious health issues? Urologist Dr. Sara Lenherr and Dr. Kirtly Jones discuss the issues, available tests, and how to treat and manage bladder problems if you have multiple sclerosis.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: Multiple sclerosis is a disease that's more common in women than men. It's a complicated disease, it's a neurologic disease, but it affects many parts of the body and today we're going to talk about the bladder, and MS, and your health, on The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is the Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones, on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: Today in The Scope studio, we have Dr. Sara Lenherr, who is a specialist in neurology, she's trained as an urologist, but she's pretty clearly interested in the way the brain talks to the bladder. And today we're talking with her about MS, patients with MS, and problems they might have with their bladder, and what might be done. So talk a little about the brain talking to the bladder and multiple sclerosis.

The Bladder and Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Lenherr: In normal patients that don't have neurological problems, the brain is designed to tell the bladder to store urine for as long as is reasonable, and then when you're near a bathroom, then you volitionally go ahead and void out your urine. Unfortunately in multiple sclerosis and a lot of different types of neurological disorders, the communication between the brain and the bladder is disrupted by the nervous system problems that happen in MS.

And so specifically, sometimes that bladder becomes over-active and receives too many signals from the brain, and then it also, the sphincter that's supposed to keep you from leaking doesn't necessarily relax when you want to go ahead and pee.

Dr. Jones: So what happens? So a woman who has MS and has neurologic symptoms in her bladder, what would she experience?

Symptoms of MS and Bladder Issues

Dr. Lenherr: So usually they'll present with urinary frequency and urgency, but sometimes they just don't empty their bladder at all, so they'll feel like they have to go, they try to go, and then they can't empty out their bladder completely. Either just a little bit comes out or none comes out at all, and interestingly, sometimes we catch these cases of multiple sclerosis before they're even diagnosed by a neurologist, because women will present when they're a little bit younger, and they have no reason to be in urinary retention to not empty their urine.

Urinary Retention

Dr. Jones: So let's back up, so urinary retention. You mean if they go a little bit, then their bladder gets fuller, and fuller? I see a balloon in my head.

Dr. Lenherr: Exactly.

Dr. Jones: How full is too full and what happens?

Dr. Lenherr: Well, if you have too much urine in your bladder, especially for women, usually when you have too much in your bladder and you're a female, you have what's called overflow incontinence, where the urine just comes out even though the sphincter is nice and tight. And so those women will notice that they just leak, and they can't empty out all the way. They feel full.

Dr. Jones: Well, so a lot of women leak, so how would you know that it's overflow? What test would you do?

Tests for Urinary Incontinence

Dr. Lenherr: So we can do either a catheterized volume to see if there's urine left over after you pee. Or we can just do a little bed side ultrasound to evaluate whether or not there's any urine leftover in your bladder.

Dr. Jones: So a urologist might actually pick up MS before the patient shows the other neurologic signs of MS.

Dr. Lenherr: That's correct.

Dr. Jones: And these are young women.

And young women being wet all the time is devastating, well it's what, it's devastating for any woman of any age, but for young women in particular, they don't want to be wearing pads, and Depends. So what kinds of things do you have to offer for women with MS?

Patient Outlook

Dr. Lenherr: So once we identify the problem, then we need to discuss with the patient what drives their quality of life, and what is a safety issue. So safety issues would be if your bladder doesn't empty all the way, and it ultimately causes the bladder to stretch out and cause damage, and sometimes could impact kidney function.

Dr. Jones: Oh, so it backs up and backs up?

Dr. Lenherr: It can back up all the way and it could cause the kidneys to have damage which is a bigger issue. The other thing that can happen with the urine sitting in the bladder for a long time, it can lead you to get urinary tract infections. So there's multiple things that we can address with a safety issue, and then we need to look at quality of life, so quality of life is impacted by leaking all the time, or having to go to the bathroom all the time.

Treatment Options

Dr. Jones: So do women have to empty their own bladder with a tube? I mean do you give them medication to make their bladder squeeze a little harder?

Dr. Lenherr: So depending on how their bladder works when we evaluate it, we frequently have to have these patients go use a small catheter to empty their bladder on a timed basis. And that generally treats them very well because it empties the urine when they want to, and they're able to control risks of urinary tract infections and kidney damage, and then they also don't have the overflow incontinence that we discussed before.

That's one good strategy, sometimes if the over-activity is really bothersome, and they still have irritation even though there's a small amount of urine in their bladder, we put them on other types of medication and we also can offer them chemodenervation, which is called botox, which is similar to the botox that you put on your forehead for wrinkles, we can inject that in the bladder to relax it.

And we can also put in nerve stimulators that help act like a bladder pacemaker. So there are multiple different options we can offer women with multiple sclerosis to help them manage their bladders better.

Dr. Jones: Well that's great news, because for MS it's a condition that waxes and wanes through a life time. It often begins in women's early 20s, or 30s. So giving somebody the qualify of life so they can be the persons that they want to be, is a really important service that you guys can offer.

And I think for many women with MS, they feel like their life and their agency has been taken away, and empowering them to have a little more control.

Dr. Lenherr: Exactly, and also considering that we follow them for the rest of their lives, and sometimes their bladder conditions change, so we need to adjust the strategies that were working five years ago.

Dr. Jones: And here at the University of Utah, we have a medical record that helps our doctors talk to each other so you're not doing this just in the urology clinic. You talk to their other MS doctors.

Dr. Lenherr: Exactly.

Dr. Jones: Because often they're on a lot of meds.

Dr. Lenherr: We coordinate all their care and make sure that we're all working together to improve the quality of life and keep them safe.

Dr. Jones: That's great to know because I've had a lot of patients over the years with MS. It's very discouraging. Knowing that there's things that they can do is very helpful, and Sara thank you for joining us on The Scope.

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