Going on holiday is usually a very exciting time, but there’s always a slight element of stress when you’re about to set off — simply making sure you don’t forget your passport is bad enough. Living with MS can add another layer of complexity to your plans, especially if you are one of the many people who experience bladder and/or bowel problems.
The one thing to remember should you have MS, however, is that it doesn’t have to be a reason to say no to a holiday. In fact, with a little forward planning, there is so much you can do to make sure you are not only well equipped to manage any problems that may crop up, but also in making sure you have the best possible time on holiday.
Understanding common bladder problems
Around 80% of people living with MS have reported bladder problems at some stage1 . This might mean that you need to get to the toilet straight away when you feel the urge to go, and you may need to go more often than most people. On the other hand, some people may find they are prone to incontinence or are unable to go at all — either way, there are different ways to manage these problems.
For example, some people find that using a disposable catheter to empty their bladder can help, whilst others use medications which can improve bladder function. Additionally, some people will have a permanent catheter in place. However, it’s important to understand that there are plenty of selfhelp examples you can utilise in order to treat bladder symptoms. If you are having problems, or if you’re are worried you won’t be able to cope whilst on holiday, then make sure you contact your MS nurse, continence adviser, or practice nurse in plenty of time. They will be able to help you pinpoint and understand why you might be suffering any complications, and talk with you if you’re feeling anxious about flying.
Bladder management for going abroad
A quick tip when planning your holiday, should you be flying, is to check in early and select a seat which is in the aisle and near to the toilets. If you need to catheterise yourself on the flight, then make sure you have your catheters and some disposable wipes in your hand luggage — a simple toilet bag can hold all you need and is very discrete. Bladder problems are also common in people with spinal cord injury, and Gary Evans, a highlevel C4/5 quadriplegic, who also uses a catheter, mentioned a very useful piece of advice in regards to catheter usage during flight travel:
“I have a leg bag, which I’ll have on all the time, but I’ll connect up a night bag with that, so that during the flight you won’t need to empty it. The night bag can also be tucked away underneath your seat so it’s not in the way. It just makes things easier for you and your carers.” Simple measures like these can really go a long way to make sure you stay comfortable during travelling.
Up to 50% of people with MS may also suffer from a number of bowel problems — ranging from constipation to bowel incontinence2. And, naturally, many people find it very embarrassing to talk about. But this is a very common problem, and it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If you are suffering from any complications or anxiety, again, like with any bladder concerns, speak to your nurse about it. They will be very matter of fact about everything and will be able to give you plenty of practical help to manage any problems you’re having.
Lifestyle changes and routine
There are medications, too, which can help to speed up or slow down the passage of stools, and there are simple lifestyle changes you can make which can also be of help. For example, have a look at your diet and see if you can make any healthy changes to it. Exercise, too, will help your body to function more effectively, and even simply using the squat position when you go to the toilet to help you bear down more effectively can really help both bladder and bowel problems. Your nurse will be able to help you find a routine that works for you, too. However, it can take a while to establish an effective bowel/bladder routine, so don’t wait until the week before you go away to ask for advice (though that is better than not asking at all!).
Once you have a routine that works for you, do your best to stick to it. This can be difficult when on holiday — waiting around at airports and sitting on a plane eating airline food is rarely conducive to a healthy bladder routine, nor are the early starts that often go hand in hand with a trip away. As a result, the best thing you can do is to make sure you have a good amount of easyaccess supplies of any medications you may need with you. Drinking plenty of water and making sure you move around as much as you can will also help to stop your bladder and bowel becoming too sluggish. What’s more, if you have a meal on the plane then try and use the toilet about 20 minutes afterwards — this is often most effective after breakfast, but can be a useful tip at any time.
Re-establishing your normal routine
Once you have arrived at your destination you should be more in control of your daily routine again, and it’s important to try and reestablish your usual routine as soon as possible. Additionally, take common sense precautions to minimise the risks of developing any further complications such as diarrhoea: only drink bottled water, make sure you wash your hands before eating, and, of course, before and after using the toilet. A small bottle of hand gel can also be very useful, or keep a pocketsized pack of disposable wipes in your bag. If you are selfcatheterising, for instance, make sure you use bottled water or disposable wipes to clean yourself down below, as well as to wash your hands, in order to maintain proper hygiene levels and avoid any problems such as infection.
Having MS often means that you need to think ahead more than most, and plan what you might need for different circumstances and different holidays. It’s also important that you listen to your body and take time to understand what works for you; everyone with MS is different and you are the expert with regards to your MS. Going on holiday should be fun and enjoyable, so don’t let bowel or bladder symptoms put you off — talk to your nurse, plan ahead, use your common sense, listen to your body, and enjoy your trip. For further advice on how to manage any bladder or bowel problems while on holiday, do get in touch with one of our nurses as they will be more than happy to help you.
For further advice on how to manage any bladder or bowel problems while on holiday, do get in touch with one of our nurses as they will be more than happy to help you.
For more information about how to manage your symptoms on holiday, feel free to visit our Learn section.
1 "Bladder Problems : National Multiple Sclerosis Society." (2014). Accessed: 9 Jun. 2016 <http://www.nationalmssociety.org/SymptomsDiagnosis/MSSymptoms/BladderDysfunction>
2 "Bowel problems in MS | Multiple Sclerosis Society UK MS Society." (2014) Accessed: 9 Jun. 2016 <https://www.mssociety.org.uk/whatisms/signsandsymptoms/bowel/aboutbowelproblems>