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Bladder and bowel control after stroke

It is common for people to have problems controlling their bladder and/or bowels after a stroke. About half of all people admitted to hospital after a stroke will lose bladder control and a third will experience loss of bowel control. For the majority of people these problems will resolve over time. For most people normal bladder and bowel function will resume within a year after their stroke.

Loss of bladder or bowel control is called incontinence. It is not just a physical problem; it can impact on what people do and how they feel. It can be a cause of considerable concern and distress as it is a very sensitive and personal issue.

If you do continue to experience bowel and bladder problems, there is a lot of support available to you whether you are in hospital or at home:

  • While you are in hospital, your medical team will assess your bladder and bowel function and suggest treatments to help you. You may also be referred to a specialist continence adviser.
  • If you are at home, your GP, stroke nurse, district or community nurse will be able to help you. They will aim to find the cause of your problems and work with you to develop an effective treatment programme. They can recommend exercises and strategies to help you improve bladder and/or bowel control. They will also be able to suggest aids and equipment that may help.

What can I do to help myself?

  • Try to drink at least 6-8 glasses (1.5-2 litres or 3-4 pints) of fluid (especially water) every day. This will help to keep your bladder healthy and avoid infections and constipation.
  • Avoid or cut down on alcoholic drinks and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and coca-cola. These can all irritate your bladder.
  • Have a balanced diet. Changes to your diet such as eating more fibre can help if you have constipation.
  • Keep as active as you can and do your pelvic floor exercises if instructed (there are specialist physiotherapists that can help with this). Pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen the muscles which support your bladder to improve or stop the leakage of urine. It is important to keep doing these exercises as it may take several weeks before you notice an improvement.
  • See your GP if passing urine is painful, you feel unwell or you have a fever - you may have an infection.
  • Get into a routine to help you avoid episodes of incontinence.
  • Wearing clothes that are easy to unfasten can help if you have difficulty with manual tasks. Velcro or elasticated waistbands can be quicker and easier than buttons or fiddly fasteners.
For more information on the types of bladder and bowel problems that can occur after a stroke and the help treatments available, see the CHSS factsheet Bladder and Bowel management after a stroke (PDF). You can also call our Advice Line nurses on 0808 801 0899 to speak to someone in confidence.