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Bladder Complications in MS

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Q) My patient has multiple sclerosis and complains of feeling weaker, but denies urinary symptoms. Why have I been told to check for urinary tract infection and not just administer steroids?

Bladder complications are extremely common in patients living with multiple sclerosis (MS), occurring in around 80% of this population.1 These complications—which include urinary urgency, failure to fully empty the bladder, incontinence, and difficulty getting to a toilet in time—can increase risk for urinary tract infection (UTI). And because many patients with MS also have sensory problems (eg, ­neurogenic bladder), they do not always present with the hallmark UTI symptoms of burning or pain with urination.

Often, presenting symptoms include generalized weakness, increased spasticity, or intensified neurologic issues. These can lead patients to believe they are having a relapse, when in fact, a UTI is causing a pseudoexacerbation of their baseline neurologic issues. In addition, frequent nocturia can disrupt sleep and further contribute to MS-related fatigue. Patients may self-induce dehydration by limiting their daytime fluid intake in an effort to avoid bathroom visits.1

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In partnership with urology colleagues, you can help mitigate bladder complications in patients with MS; this can entail use of medication or interventions such as in-and-out or straight catheterization, timed voids, Botox, or pelvic floor physical therapy. Behavior modifications—ie, minimizing caffeine intake, limiting alcohol consumption, and stopping fluids early in the evening—can also be beneficial.1,2

Before initiating bladder medication, it is important to review potential adverse effects with the patient. It’s also crucial to ensure that patients are fully emptying their bladders before starting anticholinergic medications, as these can worsen retention.

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