Shockingly, half of all people admitted to hospital with a stroke will have lost control of their bladder. A third of these people will experience loss of bowel control. For many people, loss of toilet control is a very sensitive and personal issue and some people may feel like they have lost their dignity. Though incontinence can initially be stressful and upsetting, these problems are often resolved with time. It is useful to be aware of the reasons why people develop incontinence after a stroke in order to feel more in control of the problem.
Why do people develop incontinence after a stroke?
If you are experiencing incontinence after suffering from a stroke, you are certainly not alone. Often, a stroke can damage the part of the brain that controls your bladder and bowel. Therefore, it makes sense that if you are not fully conscious of your surroundings, you may wet or soil yourself without realising it. As with other after-effects, it may take the time to recover. Similarly, lack of control over your movement and actions may mean you are not always able to get there in time. The same may be true if you have communication difficulties and cannot make yourself understood in time, resulting in frequent accidents and embarrassing leaks.
Being less mobile than usual can often make you much more prone to constipation, which in turn may cause continence problems. You may not be able to eat or drink as much as usual and as a result may be undernourished and dehydrated. More surprisingly, medicines including those commonly prescribed after a stroke can have an impact on bladder or bowel control. For instance, medicines called diuretics, which may be taken to help lower your blood pressure may initially affect bladder control. If you suffered from mild continence problems before your stroke, this is likely to have be made worse by any lengthy period in bed. It is also likely for stroke victims to suffer from bladder infections during any period of delayed urination, which can cause temporary incontinence.
What are the common types of incontinence that occur after a stroke?
The common types of incontinence are likely to occur after you have suffered a stroke:
- Frequency – the need to pass urine more frequently than normal
- Urgency – feeling a sudden, urgent and uncontrollable need to pass urine. Often there is not enough time to get to the toilet, resulting in an accident
- Nocturnal incontinence – wetting the bed while asleep
- Overflow incontinence – where the bladder leaks due to being too full. This can be due to a loss of feeling in your bladder, or difficulty in emptying your bladder effectively (urine retention)
- Stress incontinence – small amounts of urinary leakage when putting pressure on the bladder such as when coughing or laughing. This usually happens because the muscles in the pelvic floor or urethral sphincter are weak or damaged
- Functional incontinence – caused when the physical effects of a stroke impede mobility or make it difficult to unfasten clothes in time to use the toilet
- Reflex incontinence – passing urine without realising it. This happens when a stroke has affected the part of the brain that senses and controls bladder movement
Incontinence treatment professionals
There are a number of health professionals who can help you improve your incontinence after dealing with a stroke. Health professionals that you can reach out to for treatment include the following:
- Continence Nurse Advisors. Continence advisors can recommend useful toileting aids and equipment, teach you good bladder and bowel habits and provide exercises and strategies to help.
- Physiotherapists. Physiotherapists can help with your walking and how to get to the toilet or on and off a commode. They can also give you exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. These are the muscles you use when ‘holding on’ before going to the toilet.
- Doctors and GPs. A Doctor or GP with knowledge of incontinence treatment can change any medications that could be making your incontinence worse.
- Urologists. Urologists are Doctors who specialise in problems of the urinary system and can help to improve your bladder health and control.
- Occupational therapists. Occupational therapists can help you to find the right toilet aids and equipment and ensure your clothing is easy to undo. They may also recommend foods and the right amount of fluid to help you with your bladder and bowel movements.
- Speech pathologists. Speech pathologists help with ways to communicate when you need to go to the toilet.
In addition to seeking professional help for your side effects of a stroke, it is vital to invest in the correct incontinence products and mobility aids to help you manage your condition with dignity. Shop our range of incontinence pads and pants here.