Gut and Bladder Problems

While Parkinson's disease is known for causing motor symptoms of the limbs, it may also cause problems with the nerves that help control the gut and bladder.1,2

The gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is responsible for digesting food. The GI tract is a passageway from the mouth to the anus that is made up of various digestive organs like the stomach and bowels.3

The urinary system filters your blood. It removes extra water and wastes from your body, making urine. Parts of the urinary system include:4

  • Kidneys
  • Bladder
  • Ureters
  • Urethra

Gastrointestinal problems in PD

Parkinson’s disease can cause many GI problems, including problems of the mouth, stomach, and gut.1,2,5

Mouth issues

People with PD may have problems with their mouth, including:5-7

Stomach issues

PD can cause the stomach to not empty properly. This can mean that food or medicine taken by mouth does not flow into the intestines as it should. This is known as gastroparesis. Slowed stomach emptying can lead to nausea, vomiting, excessive fullness, and bloating.1

Gut issues

Constipation is having a hard time having a bowel movement or not going often enough. It is usually defined as having less than 3 bowel movements a week. Constipation is the most common gut symptom in people with PD, affecting 8 to 9 of 10 people.1,8

Drugs that treat PD can cause constipation. There are other reasons for constipation, including:1

  • Low dietary fiber
  • Not enough exercise
  • Stress
  • Other drugs, like opioid painkillers or antacid medicines
  • Fighting the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Other medical problems

Bladder issues with PD

Bladder problems can also occur with PD and as a result of drugs used to treat PD. Two of the most common problems are:2

  • The need to urinate often
  • A sudden, strong urge to urinate

Your doctor might tell you your bladder is overactive or irritable. A loss of bladder control (incontinence) can also happen with PD, though this is not as common.2

What is the cause?

While motor problems of the body and limbs are often the most visible symptom of PD, other symptoms occur as well. Parkinson’s disease can affect the autonomic nervous system. This is the nervous system responsible for automatic bodily functions like bowel movements and urination.2

The area of the brain that is most heavily damaged by PD makes dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that allows for smooth and controlled muscle movement. Also, protein deposits in the brain called Lewy bodies contribute to autonomic nervous system problems in PD.9

Treatment

PD is a chronic, progressive disease with no known cure at this time. However, treatment is available and is aimed at helping reduce symptoms of the disease.

For those with mouth, speech, and swallowing problems, a speech therapist is helpful. These experts can help evaluate and treat issues, making sure you are able to safely eat. Other remedies like chewing gum or sucking on hard candy might also help with saliva issues. However, talk to your doctor before doing these things. Some remedies are not safe for everyone.5

Constipation, nausea, and slowed stomach emptying can decrease the quality of life for some people. Keeping your stool soft can help. Ways to manage gut and constipation issues include:1

  • Exercise daily
  • Drink about 6 to 8 cups of water daily
  • Eat high-fiber foods like prunes and bran cereal
  • Make sure to add enough fruits and veggies to your diet
  • Drink warm rather than cold liquids

Again, some people cannot follow all of these tips. Always talk to your doctors before starting home remedies for gut or constipation issues.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

Written by: Katie Murphy │ Last reviewed: April 2022