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Bladder Dysfunction

From The MS Information Sourcebook, produced by the National MS Society.

Bladder dysfunction, which occurs in at least 80% of people with MS, can usually be managed quite successfully. Treatment strategies include dietary and fluid management, medications, and intermittent or continual catheterization (inserting a thin tube into the bladder to remove urine).

Bladder dysfunction occurs when MS lesions block or delay transmission of nerve signals in areas of the central nervous system that control the bladder and urinary sphincter. The sphincter is the muscle surrounding the opening of the bladder, which controls the storage and outflow of urine. It is this muscle that gives people voluntary control over urination.

Symptoms and Complications

Symptoms of bladder dysfunction may include:

  • Frequency and/or urgency of urination
  • Hesitancy in starting urination
  • Frequent nighttime urination (known as nocturia)
  • Incontinence (the inability to hold in urine)

These symptoms may be caused by a "spastic" bladder that is unable to hold the normal amount of urine, or by a bladder that does not empty properly, and thus always retains some urine in it. Retaining urine may lead to complications such as repeated infections or kidney damage.

Left untreated, bladder dysfunction may also cause emotional and personal hygiene problems that can interfere with normal activities of living and socialization. It is therefore important to seek appropriate medical evaluation and treatment early, so that the cause of the bladder symptoms can be determined and treated, and complications avoided.

See also...


Society Web Resources

Clinical Bulletins for Healthcare Professionals


Holland NJ, Halper J (eds.). Multiple Sclerosis: A Self-Care Guide to Wellness (2nd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2005.
—Ch. 7 Bladder and Bowel Management

Kalb R. (ed.) Multiple Sclerosis: The Questions You Have; The Answers You Need (3rd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
—Ch. 4 Nursing Care to Enhance Wellness

Kalb R. (ed.). Multiple Sclerosis: A Guide for Families (3rd ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2005.
—Ch. 11 General Health and Well-being

Schapiro R. Managing the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (5th ed.). New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Ch. 10 Bladder Symptoms




Last updated October 2005