Literature Review

Are Bladder Dysfunction and Falls Related in MS?

Treating bladder symptoms in MS may have benefits beyond reducing urgency and incontinence.


Urinary urgency with incontinence is associated with recurrent falls in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) with mild to moderate disability, according to data published in the July–August issue of International Journal of MS Care. Urinary urgency with incontinence often responds to physical, behavioral, and pharmaceutical interventions, and neurologists should ask patients with MS about bladder symptoms and fall history, according to the authors.

Bladder dysfunction and falls are highly prevalent among people with MS, and bladder dysfunction is associated with falls in older adults. Studies of the association between bladder dysfunction and falls in people with MS, however, are limited and have produced mixed results. Jaime E. Zelaya, PhD, a doctoral student at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and colleagues conducted a longitudinal observational cohort study to clarify the possible association between baseline urinary symptoms and future falls.

Participants Prospectively Recorded Falls

The investigators recruited participants from outpatient MS clinics in the Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, Oregon Health and Science University MS clinics, and the surrounding community. Eligible participants had a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS, mild to moderate MS-related disability, and no relapse within 30 days of baseline. Patients with another condition that affected their balance or gait were excluded from the study.

At baseline, Dr. Zelaya and colleagues asked participants whether they had urinary incontinence, urinary frequency, or urinary urgency. Participants then prospectively recorded their number of falls each day using fall calendars. They were asked to return their calendars to the investigators at the end of each month. The researchers defined four patient categories based on the number of falls during three months. Recurrent fallers fell two or more times, nonrecurrent fallers fell once or not at all, fallers had one fall or more, and nonfallers did not fall. The investigators analyzed the data using age, sex, and disability as potential confounders.

Most Patients Fell at Least Once

The final analysis included 51 participants (37 women). Mean age was 40, and median Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score was 3.0. In all, 15 participants (29%) were recurrent fallers, and 36 (71%) were nonrecurrent fallers. Furthermore, 32 (63%) participants were fallers, and 19 (37%) were nonfallers.

Urinary dysfunction was more prevalent in fallers and recurrent fallers than in nonrecurrent fallers or nonfallers. In the adjusted analyses, urinary urgency with incontinence was significantly associated with recurrent falls (odds ratio [OR], 57.57). The researchers did not find a significant association between urinary urgency without incontinence and recurrent falls, or between urinary frequency and recurrent falls. They also did not find significant associations between urinary urgency with incontinence, urinary urgency without incontinence, or urinary frequency and sustaining one or more falls.

The high prevalence of falls and bladder dysfunction in this population and previous studies “suggests that both falls and bladder dysfunction are common, early, and persistent symptoms in MS,” said the authors. The findings suggest that fall-prevention programs “should particularly be considered for reducing fall risk in recurrent fallers, and that such programs should include strategies for managing urinary urgency with incontinence,” they concluded.

Erik Greb

Suggested Reading

Zelaya JE, Murchison C, Cameron M. Associations between bladder dysfunction and falls in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Int J MS Care. 2017;19(4):184-190.

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