Coping with bowel or bladder changes
If you have bowel or bladder changes, the most important thing to do is to ask for professional help. There are often things that can be done to improve symptoms or sometimes get rid of them entirely.
However, it may take time before your symptoms improve. In the meantime, there are things that can help you feel more confident and in control.
If you have problems with leakage from your stoma, bowel or bladder, it can make the surrounding skin in the area sore. There are many products available that can help protect your skin. Your continence adviser or stoma nurse will be able to give you more information.
Here are some suggestions:
Keep your skin clean and dry.
Try using unperfumed wet wipes, rather than toilet paper, as they are kinder to your skin.
Absorbent pads and barrier creams (such as Cavilon® or Sudocrem®) help to protect your skin.
Wear cotton underwear - it allows your skin to breathe more than man-made materials.
You may feel worried about going out, especially to somewhere new. Planning ahead so that you’re prepared can help you feel more confident.
Access to toilets
If you’re going somewhere you’re not familiar with, it’s a good idea to find out where the toilets are in advance. Many towns and counties have lists, maps and information about the public toilets in their area as lists or maps. Often these are found on local authority websites.
There are too many of these websites to list here but you’ll be able to find them on the internet. Try putting the terms ‘public toilets’ and the name of the place you plan to visit into a search engine to find out what’s available.
Carrying a ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card may help you to get access to a toilet more quickly when you’re out. It states that the card holder has a medical condition that requires urgent access to a toilet. You can get a ‘Just Can’t Wait’ card from the Bladder and Bowel Foundation or Disability Rights UK.
You can use disabled toilets too. These often offer more privacy, have a wash basin and more space if you need to change. The National Key Scheme for Toilets offers people with a disability access to about 9,000 locked public toilets across the UK. You can buy a key from Disability Rights UK. They can also send you details of where the toilets are located.
Take a bag with supplies
Pack a bag of the things you may need when you go out. This will make you feel more confident and help you to cope if an accident occurs.
You may want to include:
barrier cream such as Cavilon® or Sudocrem®
loperamide (if you have bowel control problems)
pads and pants (or stoma supplies if you have a stoma)
a change of clothing
a sealable bag.
Keep to a healthy weight
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Being overweight puts pressure on your pelvic floor muscles, so it’s especially important to keep to a healthy weight if you have bowel or bladder control problems. Your GP can advise you on the healthy weight range for your height and build.
We have more information about weight management and healthy eating and cancer.
Keeping physically active
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Keeping active will help you manage your weight and avoid getting constipated. This is important to help look after your pelvic floor muscles. Exercise also helps you feel better and can reduce stress.
Some people find that more vigorous types of exercise make symptoms such as incontinence worse. If this is the case for you, try gentler (lower impact) exercise, such as walking or swimming. Once your symptoms are under control and you’re feeling more confident, you may want to gradually introduce other types of exercise.
If you have a stoma, there is no restriction on the sports that you can play apart from contact sports. Ask your stoma nurse if you’re in doubt about what you can do.
You might find it helpful to look at our information about physical activity and cancer treatment.
Bowel or bladder problems can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about and can make you feel isolated. Everyone has their own ways of coping. Some people find it easier to talk about personal things than others do. Some use humour to help them keep positive, or some choose to see difficulties as challenges to be overcome. Do whatever feels right for you.
Health professionals can give you lots of support and advice, especially if you let them know about the problems you’re having. They’re used to dealing with and discussing intimate problems and can refer you to a counsellor or specialist if you need more help.
Support groups, online community sites and specialist organisations can also provide invaluable support. They’re a good way of meeting other people who may have been through similar difficulties. You can then share experiences and solutions with each other. Partners, family and close friends can also help you keep things in perspective and reassure you that you’re valued for who you are.