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Multiple Sclerosis: Dealing with Bowel Dysfunction

The British author, John Donne, wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” In a similar idea, no neurological symptom is independent and isolated; every system has potential to impact the whole body. Neurogenic bladder should cue a clinician to check for neurogenic bowel and to assess the pelvic floor in order to get a complete map of what to address in treatment.

Multiple SclerosisMartinez, Neshatian, & Khavari (2016) reviewed literature on neurogenic bowel dysfunction (NBD) and neurogenic bladder in patients with neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Constipation and fecal incontinence can coexist with NBD, and a multifactorial bowel regimen is vital to conservative management in patients with neurological disorders. Nonpharmacological, pharmacological, and surgical approaches were reviewed in the article. Specific results for MS were reported only for transanal irrigation (TAI) and biofeedback. In TAI, fluid is used to stimulate the bowel and clean out stool from the rectum. A study showed 53% of the 30 patients with MS demonstrated a 50% or better improvement in bowel symptoms with TAI. In anorectal biofeedback, operant conditioning retrains motor and sensory responses via exercises guided by manometry. With biofeedback, a study showed 38% of patients had a beneficial impact with the intervention. The list of treatment approaches not specifically researched for MS patients in this review includes: dietary modifications, perianal/anorectal stimulation, abdominal massage, suppositories, oral medications such as stool softeners or prokinetic agents, sacral neuromodulation, antegrade continence enema, and colostomy.

Miletta, Bogliatto, & Bacchio (2017) presented a case study about management of sexual dysfunction, perineal pain, and elimination dysfunction in a 40 year old female with multiple sclerosis. She had been experiencing perineal pain for 5 months and had chronic MS symptoms of lower anourogenital dysfunction, including bladder retention and obstructed defecation syndrome. Physical therapy treatment included pelvic floor muscle training (primarily decreasing overactivity of pelvic muscles in this case), perineal massage, biofeedback, postural correction, global relaxation techniques, and a home self-training program. After 5 months of physical therapy, the woman had improved pelvic floor muscle contraction strength, resolution of pelvic floor muscle overactivity, increased sexual satisfaction (according to the Female Sexual Function Index score), a visual analog scale improvement of vulvar and perineal pain by 4 points, normalization of obstructed defecation syndrome, and decreased bladder retention symptoms. The authors concluded the variety of symptoms in MS require a multimodal approach for treatment, considering all the motor, autonomic, and cognitive impairments as well as side effects of medications that try to improve those symptoms. The quality of life of women with MS has potential to be improved significantly if pelvic floor disorders related to MS are addressed appropriately.

Ultimately, treating urinary dysfunction but avoiding bowel dysfunction does neurological patients a disservice. Systems are intertwined in a series of cause and effects throughout the body. The “Neurologic Conditions and the Pelvic Floor” course can expand your knowledge and understanding of how the symptoms of conditions such as multiple sclerosis can impact pelvic health and how we can better address the whole patient for optimal outcomes.


Martinez, L., Neshatian, L., & Khavari, R. (2016). Neurogenic Bowel Dysfunction in Patients with Neurogenic Bladder. Current Bladder Dysfunction Reports, 11(4), 334–340. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11884-016-0390-3
Miletta, M., Bogliatto, F., & Bacchio, L. (2017). Multidisciplinary Management of Sexual Dysfunction, Perineal Pain, and Elimination Dysfunction in a Woman with Multiple Sclerosis. International Journal of MS Care, 19(1), 25–28. http://doi.org/10.7224/1537-2073.2015-082

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