People with MS may be prone to bowel problems, including constipation and diarrhea. Here's what may happen and why.
Experts believe that damage to the protective myelin covering on nerves can interfere with signals from the brain to the bowels. This can upset the normal movement of the bowels, leading to constipation.
Other causes of constipation in MS include:
- Fatigue or mobility issues: Decreased ability to exercise and move around can cause the bowels to move more slowly.
- Weakened muscles or muscle spasticity: Weakened stomach and bowel muscles can make the process of having a bowel movement more difficult. Problems with spasticity may also interfere with normal bowel movements.
- Bladder problems: Some people with MS have bladder problems as well, and may restrict their fluid intake in an attempt to deal with them. However, this can cause bladder irritation and make constipation worse.
- Medications: certain medications, such as calcium supplements, certain antacids, antidepressants, or pain relievers, can lead to constipation.
People with MS can also experience diarrhea, although this is less common than constipation. As mentioned above, MS can damage the nerves that send signals between the brain and bowels. Sometimes this can cause constipation, but it may also cause diarrhea.
Diarrhea may be combined with a sudden loss of bowel control. This can be related to spastic muscles or overstretching during a bowel movement, which may cause the anal sphincter (the tight muscular ring that normally keeps the anus closed) to suddenly and unexpectedly relax, leading to leakage of bowel contents.
Loss of bowel control (also called fecal incontinence) may also be caused by constipation leading to "overflow" diarrhea, where loose stools leak out from behind a mass of hardened stool stuck in the bowel.
MS-related bowel problems can be distressing, but they can be managed. Read "How you can cope with MS bowel problems" to learn more about how to cope.
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