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Physical changes

Bowel and bladder changes

A brain injury may affect how well the bowel (intestines) and bladder work. If this happened, you may need help managing these changes. Most people with a brain injury don’t end up with a permanent bowel or bladder problems.

Constipation

Constipation happens when stool (poop) is hard to pass.

Constipation can happen after a brain injury if you:

  • are less active
  • don’t eat or drink enough
  • don’t know your bowels are full and need to have a bowel movement
  • can’t plan ahead to give yourself enough time to get to the bathroom
  • can’t ask for help to get to the bathroom
  • can’t walk to the bathroom
  • don’t eat enough food with fibre
  • don’t drink enough fluids

Find out more about constipation and how to manage it.

Leaking stool and diarrhea

Leaking stool is called fecal incontinence. Diarrhea is having loose stool.

Leaking stool and diarrhea can happen after a brain injury if you can’t:

  • control your bowel movements
  • walk to the bathroom
  • can’t ask for help to go to the bathroom
  • don’t eat enough food with fibre
  • can’t plan ahead to give yourself enough time to get to the bathroom
  • don’t know the bowels are full and need to have a bowel movement

Find out more about fecal incontinence, diarrhea, and how to manage these issues.

Bladder problems

The goal of managing bladder problems is to keep the kidneys and bladder healthy. When there is damage to parts of the brain that control behavior and memory, it can lead to bladder problems.

Bladder problems include:

  • not being able to pass urine
  • leaking urine (incontinence)
  • having a strong urge to pass urine
  • passing urine more often
  • not fully emptying the bladder

There can also be skin problems if urine touches the skin for too long.

Bladder problems can happen when you:

  • don’t know your bladder is full
  • can’t remember when you last passed urine
  • can’t control passing urine
  • can’t ask for help
  • can’t plan ahead to get to the bathroom
  • can’t walk to the bathroom in time

Managing the bladder is an important way to prevent bladder infections.

Your bladder may need to be drained through a catheter (a tube that’s put into the bladder) when you’re getting early care for a brain injury. The catheter is usually taken out as your brain heals and you’re able to manage your bladder on your own.

If you had a bladder problem before the injury (such as an enlarged prostate), it can make bladder problems worse after a brain injury.

If you can’t feel the need to empty your bladder, you may need to:

  • use a catheter (to drain urine from the bladder) or a condom catheter (if you have a penis)
  • set times to try to pass urine
  • use an adult diaper

Talk to your nurse or doctor about a plan to help manage the bladder. To keep the kidneys healthy, drink the amount of that your dietitian or doctor recommends.

Find out more about urinary incontinence in women and men.​

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