Urinary catheters are medical devices used to drain urine from the bladder. They can be kept permanently in place (indwelling catheters) or used on an in-and-out basis (intermittent catheters).
Intermittent urinary catheters are thin, soft tubes used to empty the bladder through the urethra at regular intervals throughout the day. Once the bladder has been emptied, the catheter is removed. Most intermittent catheters are single-use only and should be disposed of after each use.
First-time users often feel apprehensive about catheterization, as do people who have used catheters for a while but struggle to do so comfortably. With practice and the right products, however, you can easily make self-cathing a natural part of your everyday life.
Is Intermittent Self Catheterization Painful?
Self-catheterization can cause slight discomfort and pain, especially during insertion. If you have difficulty using the catheter, take some time to relax before inserting the device. Pain can often be caused and/or worsened by tension in the body.
If you experience an abnormal amount of pain during catheterization, consult your treating physician before trying alternative treatments or switching products.
How to Make Catheterization More Comfortable
Before you self-catheterize, wash your hands thoroughly and avoid touching anything other than your catheter packet. If this is not possible, use an antiseptic towelette, baby wipe, or a catheter that requires minimal handling (such as a pre-lubricated one). Adequate hygiene will help to reduce the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI). Always ensure the packet is not damaged or punctured.
Your healthcare professional should teach you how to properly use an intermittent catheter. Some people, however, may still experience pain and discomfort during the self-catheterization process. This can often be managed by trying different products or techniques to see what works best for the individual’s body and needs.
Perfect Your Technique
Many people find difficulties in proper catheter insertion techniques. This may be due to coordination or mobility issues. Your nurse or doctor will be able to advise on the best insertion position for you.
Many women find that standing with a leg on the toilet is the easiest way to locate the urethra and insert the catheter. Depending on your mobility, you can also insert the device while seated. The catheter should be slowly inserted into the urinary opening. If you feel resistance, pause for a few seconds and then gently try reinsertion. If you cannot insert the device, stop and try again later.
Depending on the severity of disability, men should self-catheterize while holding the penis straight up in either a standing or a sitting position. It is not uncommon to feel some resistance and discomfort after inserting about 6 inches of the device, as this is where the urethral sphincter muscles are located.
In this situation, it’s best to take a few deep breaths and slightly increase pressure while inserting the catheter. Once the device is inserted, ensure the bladder empties completely by letting the penis lie down naturally (while still holding the catheter in place).
If you experience pain when trying to insert the catheter, do not force it. Instead, take a deep breath and try to re-insert the device while exhaling. If that does not work, try again later or contact your nurse or doctor. If you are experiencing spasms, do not try to push the catheter any further. Wait for the contractions to pass and try again.
It is important to let the urine drain completely before removing the device to prevent infections. To avoid leakage, place a finger over the end of the tube while removing the catheter.
Look for Polished Drainage Eyelets
Drainage eyelets are small holes typically located near the insertion tip of the catheter. While they might not be something you consider important when choosing a catheter, their size, placement, and quality can significantly impact your self-cathing experience.
Devices with rough, unpolished edges can create pain and discomfort during catheter insertion and removal. Fortunately, many catheter manufacturers today offer drainage eyelets with polished edges, allowing a more comfortable and frictionless catheterization.
Try a Red Rubber Latex Catheter
Red rubber catheters are made from natural latex, making them more flexible and pliable than vinyl and silicone catheters. They are available in several different styles, lengths, and sizes. Each red rubber catheter is designed with drainage eyelets and a funnel-shaped end.
If you are using any type of latex catheter and experience irritation and/or itchiness, you might have a latex allergy. Other symptoms may include swelling, redness, hives, and even asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing.
If you think you may be allergic to latex, contact your treating physician right away. There are many products available for those sensitive to latex, such as the Covidien Dover Rob-Nel Intermittent Catheter, Bard Rochester Intermittent Catheter, and Coloplast Self-Cath Intermittent Catheter.
Consider a Coude Tip Catheter
Generally speaking, a coude catheter is only prescribed when a standard (straight) catheter cannot be inserted easily. Coude tip catheters are typically about 16 inches long, and slightly bent or angled towards the end. This may be required due to various reasons, including urethral blockage, enlarged prostate, prostate surgery, or urethral trauma. A catheter with a coude tip can help bypass these blockages.
Your doctor can help you determine what type of coude tip catheter will work best for you, based on your underlying issues. You can get a coude tip in most catheter types, including hydrophilic catheters, pre-lubricated catheters, uncoated catheters, and closed-system catheters. The Rusch Easy Cath intermittent catheter, for example, is a latex-free device that’s specially designed with soft drainage eyelets to make the process of catheter insertion smoother.
Try a Pre-Lubricated or Hydrophilic Catheter
With most intermittent catheters, it is important that they are lubricated. Lubrication reduces discomfort and friction between the catheter and the urethral walls. Some catheters need to be manually lubricated, though this can make the device slippery and difficult to handle. Alternatively, you can try a pre-lubricated or hydrophilic catheter.
Hydrophilic catheters are typically coated with a lubricated surface that is activated with either sterile saline or water. This allows for easy and smooth insertion and removal of the device.
Here are some options for hydrophilic and pre-lubricated catheters that you may want to try:
Finding the Right Urinary Catheter
Self-catheterization is a convenient and safe way to empty your bladder. It prevents backflow and residual urine, reducing the risk of infections and bladder-related complications.
Intermittent self-cathing can improve your quality of life and give you better control of your bladder. If your current device does not feel as comfortable as it should be – or you want to try alternative products – feel free to check out our wide range of intermittent catheter supplies!
Read our catheter blog for more practical information and product reviews!