Living with Epilepsy and Incontinence
by Gary Sattin on Sep 26, 2022
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that impacts millions of people and involves periodic seizures. There are many kinds of seizures, expressing through muscle relaxation or stiffening, sudden falls, or jerky bodily movements. Approximately one in 26 Americans will receive an epilepsy diagnosis by the end of their life, making it the fourth most common neurological disease. Like other neurological disorders, epilepsy has the capacity to impair urinary function. To learn more about what living with epilepsy and incontinence looks like, read our explainer on negative effects and how appropriate management restores your freedom.
Seizures That Affect Urination
Seizures cause loss of bladder control in a couple of different ways. Three common seizure types that are worth bringing up when considering how to live with epilepsy and incontinence.
Otherwise referred to as Grand Mal seizures, Tonic-Clonic seizures are uniquely disruptive and long-lasting. An episode typically involves muscle rigidity (leading to a potential fall), shallow breathing, and muscle jerking followed by minutes-long unconsciousness. During this time, it’s common for people to lose control of their bladder. Seizures disrupt the nervous system’s signals and lead to bladder leakage, but the pressure applied to the pelvic floor also plays a big role in incontinence. When pelvic muscles tense during a Tonic-Clonic episode, it put the bladder under stress and it may not be able to hold urine back. This is an example of stress incontinence.
Rather than causing muscles to excessively tense, atonic seizures induced muscle relaxation. These episodes often lead to a fall, last for a handful of seconds, and are easier for people to recover quickly from. The intersection between epilepsy and incontinence lies in the muscle relaxation—muscles weaken and cannot restrict urine flow for several seconds.
Absence seizures are quite different. Someone experiencing an absence seizure may present with a blank stare and move their mouth and eyes. Many of these people go under the radar, too. Those with absence episodes often have an attention deficiency or learning disorder misattributed to them. This seizure type leads to incontinence when the brain does not send the appropriate neurological signals to hold back urination, leading to loss of control.
Managing Incontinence as a Person with Epilepsy
Incontinence and epilepsy both steal away your sense of control. There are ways you can reclaim it, though.
Stay Consistent with Medications
Many of the incontinence management techniques involve preventing seizures. One way to do this is to be consistent with your seizure medications. In fact, going off seizure medications is one of the most reported precursors for experiencing seizure-induced loss of control.
Address Drug, Alcohol, Stress, and Sleep Complications
Substances such as illicit drugs and alcohol are known triggers for seizures and it’s best to avoid these. Also, stress, in general, precedes a seizure. Learn a coping strategy that works for you when you begin to feel exhausted and overwhelmed to prevent a seizure. To further limit exhaustion, make sure you’re getting consistent and substantial sleep. Keep in mind when these factors combine negatively, including going off meds, you increase your risk of a seizure.
Use Incontinence Products
Given that you cannot predict or your seizures from ever happening, it’s good to prepare with incontinence products in case of an incident. One helpful option is to use TotalDry fitted briefs so you have less to worry about in the event of a seizure. These and more allow you to more easily anticipate disruption and lessen its effect on your day.
Please contact your doctor before introducing these management measures into your daily life to make sure they’re right for your unique experience of epilepsy and incontinence.