Incontinence after stroke is a side effect that alters your ability to control your bladder and bowel movements.
About half stroke patients admitted to the hospital experience incontinence, according to the Stroke Association.
If you’re a stroke survivor, the most important thing for you to know is that incontinence is not your fault.
It’s an extremely common stroke side effect that can be treated.
What Is Incontinence After Stroke?
Incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder or feces or wind from the bowel, according to the Continence Foundation.
There are varying degrees of incontinence from just a small leak to a complete loss. Incontinence after stroke occurs when a stroke affects the area of your brain that controls your bladder and bowels.
Luckily problems with incontinence can go away on their own after a short amount of time. This is known as spontaneous recovery.
However, if they do not go away there are treatment options.
Tips for Dealing with Incontinence After Stroke
Based on feedback from other stroke survivors, here are some useful tips for dealing with the symptoms of incontinence:
- Add waterproof pads beneath bedsheets
- Protect furniture with plastic covers
- Keep an extra set of garments in all bathrooms
- Give yourself extra time to get to the bathroom
- Use undergarments that you don’t mind tossing out
- Keep an extra set of clothes in your car
- Have hand wipes and sanitizer nearby at all times
These tips help you deal with the unavoidable side effects of incontinence. Now let’s move onto some treatment options that can lessen the side effects.
Treatment for Incontinence After Stroke
You can treat incontinence with or without exercise. Here are the different ways you can treat incontinence without exercise:
- Urgency control* involves using deep breathing or complex mental tasks, like counting down from 100, to help you ignore your urgency to relieve yourself.
- Avoiding coffee and alcohol, which makes you produce more urine, can help prevent urinary incontinence.
- Taking medication can help reduce the amount of urine that your body produces and help reduce bowel movements to keep urges at bay and improve your control.
- Making dietary changes to reduce constipation can help as constipation worsens bowel incontinence. Adding stool softeners or laxatives while avoiding low fiber foods (like cheese) can also improve symptoms.
- Losing weight can help with incontinence as being overweight can affect your ability to control your bladder.
*Urgency control is the best treatment long-term because it can help rewire the brain and improve incontinence.
Here’s a deeper explanation.
Exercises to Improve Incontinence
Whenever you repeatedly practice something, it activates neuroplasticity and rewires the brain.
Neuroplasticity is how the brain heals itself after stroke and heals stroke side effects like incontinence.
So if you want to improve incontinence long-term, try these exercises that can help treat incontinence.
- Bladder/bowel training involves gradually retraining your bladder and bowels to hold more for longer. Start by setting specific times to go to the restroom, and then each week increase the amount of time between each bathroom break.
- Pelvic floor training (i.e. Kegel exercises) can help you strengthen the muscles that control your bladder. To do this exercise, squeeze the muscles that you use to stop urinating for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds. Continue this for 10 reps while adding one second on to each repetition.
These exercises will help increase the length of time between bathroom breaks and strengthen the muscles that control continence.
The more you practice the skill of controlling your bladder/bowel movements, the better you will get at it.
Repetition is the #1 remedy for stroke.