Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and bowel function

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a lifelong neurological condition that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, the central nervous system. Not all people will experience the same symptoms.


In MS, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin tissue, whose function is to protect the nerve fibers in the central nervous system and to ensure a smooth transition of messages between the brain and the body. These attacks damage the protective myelin tissue (called demyelination) and nerve cells which interferes with messages getting through properly. The damage or scarring (sclerosis) can happen in different parts of the central nervous system and the symptoms a person gets depend on location or how many lesions they have. The common physical symptoms are visual disturbances, balance difficulties and dizziness, fatigue, bladder/bowel problems, and muscle stiffness and/or spasms.

MS can be classified into 3 types:

  • Relapsing/Remitting,
  • Primary progressive
  • Secondary MS

Understanding which type of MS a person has is important because some symptoms will deteriorate over time without any improvement (Progressive MS), whilst Relapsing/Remitting MS will present with severe deterioration in symptoms but also temporary improvement in other symptoms.

Bowels are controlled by the same neural pathways as the urinary system and they can also be affected by MS. The disruption of messages between the brain and various parts of the digestive system causes problems with the slower passage of food through the intestinal tract, reduced sensation in the back passage and control of the anus muscles, which can lead to problems such as constipation and fecal incontinence. Constipation, diarrhea & loss of control are the most common bowel problem in MS. These symptoms may be further exacerbated by impaired sensations, reduced mobility/balance, lower limb dysfunction, and recognition of symptoms.

The emotional and psychological impacts of MS compounded with symptoms of bowel dysfunction have a massive impact on confidence and quality of life.