What is a urinary catheter?
A urinary catheter is a flexible hollow tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine and this is usually inserted by a doctor or nurse. The catheter is inserted through the urethra (the tube which urine passes through to the outside of the body) or through a man-made channel through the abdominal wall known as suprapubic catheterisation.
The catheter is retained gently in the bladder by inflating a small balloon and can be short term, 2 weeks, or long term up to 12 weeks.
Catheter Types for Men & Women
There are a range of different urinary catheter types for men and women available.
Catheter Types for Men
Catheters for men include:
- Intermittent Self Catheterisation for Men
- Indwelling Urinary Catheter
- Intermittent Self Dilatation for Male Urethral Stricture
Catheter Types for Women
Catheters for women include:
- Intermittent Self Catheterisation for Women
- Intermittent Self Dilatation for Female Urethral Stricture
Why do I need a catheter?
There are many reasons why people may need a catheter. The bladder may have lost its ability to contract and empty, there may be an obstruction of the urethra or it may be due to other health-related problems.
The need for a catheter may be for a short period of time or it could be permanent.
Your healthcare professional will discuss the need for a catheter, how long it may be needed or you may be given an appointment for a trial without a catheter. The catheter may feel uncomfortable at first and you may feel some urge to pass urine. You may even experience some bladder spasms which may cause urine to leak around the side of the catheter, this usually settles down within 24 to 48 hours.
How does a catheter work?
A urinary catheter is a soft hollow tube passed into the bladder to drain urine. Once inserted into the bladder, a small balloon device is inflated, preventing the catheter from falling out.
How to secure a catheter
To help prevent pulling or accidental dislodgement of the catheter there are a range of devices available. Elasticated straps can be worn around the thigh or abdomen to help stabilise the catheter or drainage tubes.
Adhesive devices adhere to the skin and a clip helps to stabilise the catheter.
Urine Drainage Bags
Urine Collection Bags
A sterile drainage bag which collects urine is secured to the leg using elasticated straps or a sleeve providing discreet storage of urine under clothing. A urine collection bag should be emptied when ¾ full and manufacturers recommend a maximum use of 7 days before changing.
A catheter valve allows the bladder to fill with urine and is to be emptied at regular intervals during the day by opening the valve. Manufacturer’s recommendations are up to 7 days of usage.
Catheter Belly Bag
A stomach urine bag is suspended from a belt around the waist and is a larger-volume drainage bag. Manufacturers’ guidelines are for use up to 28 days before needing to be changed.
Catheter Night Bag
Large capacity urine bag used for overnight drainage which is secured into the end of the tap of the leg bag/catheter valve, the tap is then opened to allow urine to collect in the larger bag overnight. A nightstand or bed hanger can help support the bag’s weight and aid drainage. These bags are normally single-use with a new bag each night.
How do I dispose of my used catheter products?
Empty any urine contents down the lavatory or into a collecting receptacle. Wrap the product in a disposal bag. Dispose of catheter bags in household waste or in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Practising good hand hygiene by washing your hands before and after handling catheter equipment and wearing gloves during the procedure is a simple yet effective way to prevent the spread of germs which may cause infection.
The catheter entry site into the body should be washed twice a day using mild soap and water and dried thoroughly. Creams and talcum powder should be avoided as they may affect the material of the catheter or may cause clogging. When bathing or showering your drainage bag should be emptied beforehand and left in place. Always wash your hands before and after draining or changing the urine bag.
Foods and Fluids with a Catheter
It is important to eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and fibre to avoid constipation. If your bowel is full, which happens when you are constipated, it can press on your bladder, reduce urine drainage or result in leakage around the catheter.
Drink about 1.5 to 2 litres (6-8 glasses) of fluid each day unless you have been advised otherwise by your healthcare professional. Avoid excess caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks as these may irritate your bladder.
Your urine should be a clear light-yellow colour, if it is dark yellow it can suggest that you are not drinking enough. Our guide on staying hydrated with a urinary catheter provides further information.