Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms - Incontinence, Migraines and More

We explain the link between MS and incontinence, plus explore a number of other symptoms linked with the condition.

Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms - Incontinence, Migraines and More

We explain the link between MS and incontinence, plus explore a number of other symptoms linked with the condition.

hands holding multiple sclerosis ribbon

There are more than 3 million people worldwide living with multiple sclerosis.

This complex disease occurs when the immune system attacks and breaks down a fatty material called myelin, which protects the nerves so that they can receive messages sent from the brain quickly and effectively.

People with MS have ‘attacks’ which can include symptoms like vision problems, issues with balance and coordination, fatigue, weakness, and numbness in the limbs. These attacks break down myelin which exposes parts of nerves, which disrupts messages from the brain and means parts of the body cannot function properly. This can result in a range of symptoms such as loss of motor skills.

The cause of MS is unknown, however, there are factors that may contribute to the condition, these include:

  • Having someone in your family with MS or another autoimmune condition

  • Low vitamin D levels or vitamin D deficiency

  • Previously having glandular fever (Epstein-Barr virus)

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

As for the symptoms that may indicate a person has MS, they can be quite unpredictable and change - both in type and severity - depending on the individual.. Essentially, no two cases of symptoms will be the same.

Symptoms can also be experienced in different areas of the body, depending on which part of a person’s brain, optic nerve or spinal cord is affected.

Some symptoms are invisible, making it extremely difficult to predict MS, but it’s still important to know what to watch out for so a diagnosis can be made sooner rather than later.

multiple sclerosis symptoms

Symptoms of MS

These are just some of the many symptoms that can be associated with MS. Of course, if you experience any of these you should speak to your GP.

1. MS and Incontinence

Incontinence may be a sign of MS. That’s because MS can actually disrupt or damage the nerve signals between the nervous system and the bladder and/or bowel, and can therefore impacting their function.

In the bladder, the coordination of the muscles that store the urine (detrusor) and the muscles that empty the bladder (sphincter) can be affected, which can cause urine leaks and other incontinence issues.

Types of urinary incontinence include:

  • Urge incontinence

  • Overactive Bladder

  • Stress incontinence

  • Overflow incontinence

As is for the bladder, the disrupted connection between the brain and bowel can result in faecal incontinence.

It's important to also note that most bowel incontinence issues are caused by constipation. If a person is less mobile due to their MS, it can lead to a slow-moving bowel and therefore constipation. Once someone is diagnosed with MS, some medications can also affect bowel mobility.

Along with constipation, faecal incontinence can be characterised by stool leakage/staining of the underwear, diarrhoea and/or excessive wind.

The type, severity and frequency of incontinence will be different for each individual. For some it may be short-term, with future relapses, and for others it can be more long-term.

The team at ConfidenceClub are here to support you through your incontinence journey. We have a full range of continence management products suited to different levels of need. If you're not sure what will be best suited to you, simply give our team of trained, friendly product specialists a call on 0800 088 5955. They’re available to answer any questions you have 6 days a week. Alternatively, you can also take our simple yet comprehensive Help Me Choose quiz, which will suggest products based on the information you provide.

2. Migraines

Migraines headaches are said to be one of the first symptoms in some cases of MS and can be caused by brainstem damage. This is a part of the brain where MS nerve injury can occur. One study also found that inflammation caused by a migraine could put a person at risk of developing MS [1].

Swollen optic nerves, which can be triggered by MS, can make the eyes and head feel extremely painful so that it feels like a migraine, although it technically isn't.

Of course, migraine headaches can be caused by a number of things aside from MS, so don’t automatically assume you have the condition just because you get migraines! But if you are experiencing migraines, you should be seeing your doctor to rule out anything more sinister - MS or not.

3. Dizziness & vertigo

Both of these conditions can be related and unrelated to MS, so it's important to get them checked with your doctor if they occur.

Dizziness is the feeling of being lightheaded, while vertigo is the feeling that your surroundings are spinning even when you're completely still.

As for how they can be caused by MS, lesions can form and damage in the pathways that coordinate visual, spatial and other messages to the brain to produce and maintain balance (equlibrium). In fact, around 75% of people with MS experience balance issues (which can increase the risk of falls) [2].

4. Memory & cognitive problems

MS can cause lesions on the brain, which can lead to issues with memory and thinking. Other factors associated with the condition that can exacerbate memory and cognitive issues include:

  • Stress, anxiety & depression

  • Fatigue

  • Other illnesses and infections

  • Medications

5. Sensory changes

People with MS can feel different sensations in their skin. These include numbness, pins and needles, tingling, burning, itching or tightness. The sensations can occur anywhere on the body, usually on the face, body, arms and legs, and sometimes around the gential area.

As for why these sensory symptoms occur, it’s a result of the damage to the brain’s nerves that interpret signals incoming from the body. To deal with this, the brain attempts to relate the signal to something the body has experienced previously, like being burnt or pinched. So for example, if you’re feeling pins and needles in your fingertips, there’s not actually damage to your hand tissue, but rather the nerves that report to your brain about your hand.  

6. Speech issues

People who have MS can find that their speech is impacted - and it can literally only be for a few minutes a day. This can come in the form of slurred speech, the voice feeling less strong, forgetting words, or a weak chest making talking challenging.

doctors looking at scan MS diagnosis

Getting an MS diagnosis

As many MS symptoms can be linked to other conditions and potentially misdiagnosed, always visit your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, whether new or ongoing, so you can get to the bottom of them as soon as possible.

If of any concern, they will refer you to a neurologist for further testing, and if diagnosed with MS they will provide you with a tailored management plan to ensure you continue living as comfortably as possible.

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