Symptom Management

Dietary Approaches: Bladder & Bowel Function

By Adrienne Garofalo
By damaging the nerves that carry messages from the spinal cord to the bowel and bladder, MS can result in bowel and bladder dysfunction. Bowel and bladder symptoms are quite common in people diagnosed with MS, with more than 50 percent of people reporting these issues during their disease course. Some urinary symptoms people experience, secondary to damage to these nerves, may include frequent urination, urgency of urination, leakage of urine, and inability to feel bladder is full. Some bowel symptoms experienced include fecal urgency, fecal leakage, and constipation.

Oftentimes management plans for these symptoms include medications and therapy, but did you know you could also find relief perhaps in your own home – specifically in your own kitchen?
While medications, physical therapy, and occupational therapy have huge roles in managing bowel and bladder symptoms caused by MS, so can the food and drink available in your own home. Let’s take a closer look at bowel and bladder symptoms caused by MS and how what we eat and do not eat can help manage these symptoms.


Yes, it can be as simple as the plain water that comes out of the kitchen faucet. Adequate water intake is critical for so many things in your body. As a provider, I often find people dehydrate themselves to reduce the number of urinary episodes during the day. This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue and dizziness, and, as it relates to our bowel and bladder symptoms, increased risk of urinary tract infections or worsening constipation to name a few.

It is important to prioritize your daily water intake. In general, strive for approximately half of your recommended body weight (for your height) in ounces of water a day. For example, a female weighing 120 pounds would in general have a water intake goal of approximately 60 ounces a day. This goal may seem daunting at first. Start with a smaller goal and slowly increase your water intake over several days or weeks until you reach your recommended daily water intake. Another tip includes using a water bottle marked with ounces to provide a visual reminder and tracker as you drink water throughout the day.


What is fiber? It is the portion of plants that are not digestible in our gastrointestinal tract. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, breads, pasta, and nuts. What makes fiber so important in your bowel and bladder function? Dietary fiber helps bulk up the stool and can keep bowel movements more regular. Low fiber diet can result in symptoms of constipation. Constipation and incomplete emptying of your bowels can result in increased pressure on your bladder causing urinary symptoms to worsen.

Most adults should strive for 25-35g of fiber a day. Consider starting a food journal for a few days to track your fiber intake to understand if you are meeting this goal or if have room for improvement. For example, Day One: 1 medium apple 4.4g + 1 cup peas 8.8g + 1 cup of kidney beans 13.6g = 26.8g of fiber. Bonus tip: When choosing grains, reach for whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat breads. These options have higher fiber content compared to refined grains (e.g., white rice, white bread).

Caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners:

Typically consumed in the form of a beverage, caffeine, alcohol, and beverages or food with artificial sweeteners can worsen bowel and bladder symptoms. Specifically, these items can cause increased motility of the bowel leading to bowel movements, as well as increased symptoms of urinary frequency and urgency. It may be hard to take away your morning coffee but consider consuming these dietary options in moderation, if not cutting them completely to reduce exacerbation of your bowel and bladder symptoms.

Additional bowel and bladder irritants may include:

• Acidic foods such as citrus
• Spicy foods
• Carbonated beverages
• Chocolate
• Cigarettes/tobacco

Reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss how you may improve your bowel and bladder control through potential dietary modifications. Consider consulting with an occupational therapist or dietitian to discuss dietary goals to promote a healthy lifestyle and to support healthy bowel and bladder symptom management. Remember to eat so you can go and get on with your day.