For Lois Thompson, age 57, symptoms of multiple sclerosis first appeared as bladder problems. She experienced urinary tract infections because she couldn't empty her bladder. She now manages her condition with medication and self-catheterization.

As told to: Tammy Worth
February 29, 2016

lois-thompsonMy overactive bladder is brought on by multiple sclerosis, which I was diagnosed with over 25 years ago. A lot of people who have multiple sclerosis have bladder problems; in fact, a bladder issue can be an initial symptom of the disease.

I had to go to the bathroom all of the time and was getting some disastrous urinary tract infections. Urological tests revealed that I wasn't totally emptying my bladder. I couldn't; the MS didn't let me. My bladder really was always full, thus the constant feeling of bladder fullness and the need to go.

Because I couldn't completely empty, there was always a small amount of urine left in my bladder, and that residual amount was a breeding ground for infections.

A couple of times I had really bad infections. At one point, I ended up having a temperature of 106°, the sickest I've ever been in my life. It was a very scary time.

My uppity bladder ran my life. I knew where every bathroom was wherever I went. I had a 30-minute commute to work, and then had to walk a ways to get into my building, praying that I'd make it in time. I never made it through a meeting without a bathroom break. My discomfort was never ending. Once we figured out what was going on, I began taking medication. I eventually got to a daily dose of 30 milligrams of oxybutynin (Ditropan XL)—the highest dose is generally 15 milligrams. The drug quells involuntary bladder spasms, which I believe are a part of OAB whether or not a person has MS. I would be a sieve if I didn't take it; I wouldn't leave the house. I would need to be near a bathroom all of the time.

The downside to most oral bladder control drugs is the dry mouth or constipation that they often bring on, and I got dry mouth really badly. I switched to a topical form of the drug recently, and so far it's working well, with none of the wretched dry mouth. I still take 5 milligrams daily in pill form along with the topical dose.

Next Page: The other way I manage my OAB is through intermittent self-catheterization. [ pagebreak ]
The other way I manage my OAB is through intermittent self-catheterization. I have to use a catheter to empty that residual urine every time I go. When I started doing self-catheterization, I thought that someday I could stop doing it, but not so. I'll have to do this forever.

Using the catheter is initially hard to learn if you're a woman, but there are people to talk you through the process. Catheters are also cumbersome, a nuisance, and embarrassing to have around. However, I'd be in some trouble without them, so I also think of them as godsends.

Catheters are expensive too. When I first started cathing, I had to boil and reuse the same ones over and over. When I traveled, I had to find a place to boil catheters.

The good thing is that Medicare, like most insurance companies, now covers them, so I can use a catheter and toss it out, which is much better for sanitary reasons too.

Aside from the medicine and cathing, I try to drink a lot of water. It sounds counterintuitive, but you have to keep the system flushed. I also take cranberry pills and Vitamin C in the hopes of staving off urinary tract infections.

I don't have the discomfort of a constantly full bladder anymore, and I don't usually leak. I still have my issues: I wear protective underwear at night in case I have bladder spasms while sleeping. I still get urinary tract infections periodically, but they are nowhere near as severe as they used to be.

The frequency has dramatically reduced. I can even be out for a whole evening and not have to locate the bathroom.

The bottom line is that I'm happy that my OAB can be controlled with medication and self-catheterization. It is infinitely better than the inconvenience, embarrassment, and pain of an unmanaged bladder.

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