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Urinary catheters

A urinary catheter is a tube placed in the body to drain and collect urine from the bladder.

Information

Urinary catheters are used to drain the bladder. Your health care provider may recommend that you use a catheter if you have:

  • Urinary incontinence (leaking urine or being unable to control when you urinate)
  • Urinary retention (being unable to empty your bladder when you need to)
  • Surgery on the prostate or genitals
  • Other medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, or dementia

Catheters come in many sizes, materials (latex, silicone, Teflon), and types (Foley, straight, coude tip). A Foley catheter, for example, is a soft, plastic or rubber tube that is inserted into the bladder to drain the urine.

In most cases, your provider will use the smallest catheter that is appropriate.

There are 3 main types of catheters:

  • Indwelling catheter
  • Condom catheter
  • Intermittent self-catheter

INDWELLING URETHRAL CATHETERS

An indwelling urinary catheter is one that is left in the bladder. You may use an indwelling catheter for a short time or a long time.

An indwelling catheter collects urine by attaching to a drainage bag. The bag has a valve that can be opened to allow urine to flow out. Some of these bags can be secured to your leg. This allows you to wear the bag under your clothes. An indwelling catheter may be inserted into the bladder in 2 ways:

  • Most often, the catheter is inserted through the urethra. This is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Sometimes, the provider will insert a catheter into your bladder through a small hole in your belly. This is done at a hospital or provider's office.

An indwelling catheter has a small balloon inflated on the end of it. This prevents the catheter from sliding out of your body. When the catheter needs to be removed, the balloon is deflated.

CONDOM CATHETERS

Condom catheters can be used by men with incontinence. There is no tube placed inside the penis. Instead, a condom-like device is placed over the penis. A tube leads from this device to a drainage bag. The condom catheter must be changed every day.

INTERMITTENT CATHETERS

You would use an intermittent catheter when you only need to use a catheter sometimes or you do not want to wear a bag. You or your caregiver will insert the catheter to drain the bladder and then remove it. This can be done only once or several times a day. The frequency will depend on the reason you need to use this method or how much urine needs to be drained from the bladder.

DRAINAGE BAGS

A catheter is most often attached to a drainage bag.

Keep the drainage bag lower than your bladder so that urine does not flow back up into your bladder. Empty the drainage device when it is about one half full and at bedtime. Always wash your hands with soap and water before emptying the bag.

HOW TO CARE FOR A CATHETER

To care for an indwelling catheter, clean the area where the catheter exits your body and the catheter itself with soap and water every day. Also clean the area after every bowel movement to prevent infection.

If you have a suprapubic catheter, clean the opening in your belly and the tube with soap and water every day. Then cover it with dry gauze.

Drink plenty of fluids to help prevent infections. Ask your provider how much you should drink.

Wash your hands before and after handling the drainage device. DO NOT allow the outlet valve to touch anything. If the outlet gets dirty, clean it with soap and water.

Sometimes urine can leak around the catheter. This may be caused by:

POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONS

Complications of catheter use include:

Call your provider if you have:

  • Bladder spasms that do not go away
  • Bleeding into or around the catheter
  • Fever or chills
  • Large amounts of urine leaking around the catheter
  • Skin sores around a suprapubic catheter
  • Stones or sediment in the urinary catheter or drainage bag
  • Swelling of the urethra around the catheter
  • Urine with a strong smell, or that is thick or cloudy
  • Very little or no urine draining from the catheter and you are drinking enough fluids

If the catheter becomes clogged, painful, or infected, it will need to be replaced right away.

Alternative Names

Catheter - urine; Foley catheter; Indwelling catheter; Suprapubic catheters

References

Ennis JD, Wierbicky J, Nesathurai S. Spinal cord injury (thoracic). In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 156.

Panicker JN, DasGupta R, Batla A. Neurourology. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 47.

Tailly T, Denstedt JD. Fundamentals of urinary tract drainage. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 6.

Review Date 2/5/2017

Updated by: Jennifer Sobol, DO, urologist with the Michigan Institute of Urology, West Bloomfield, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.