Self Catheterization

Catheters are flexible tubes used to drain urine from the bladder through the urethra. They help treat ailments such as incontinence and urinary retention. Catheters can be used on a permanent basis (indwelling catheters) or whenever needed (intermittent catheters).  


The majority of intermittent catheters are single-use devices that should be disposed of after one use.


A high number of patients, however, reuse disposable catheters every day. A reused intermittent catheter often performs poorly in terms of both safety and efficacy, and puts a patient’s health and wellbeing at risk.

Disposable and Reusable Catheters

Using an intermittent catheter allows you to quickly and easily empty your bladder at periods throughout the day. Self-catheterization also mimics normal bladder functions such as filling and emptying, giving you more control over your bladder.  


There are many different types of intermittent catheters available on the market. Depending on your condition and preferences, you may choose the material, size, tip style, and catheter length.


Many intermittent catheters (such as hydrophilic devices) come pre-lubricated, and are activated with sterile water or saline. With others (like some straight-tip catheters), you will need to use lubricating jelly to ensure smooth, easy insertion.


Some people choose to clean and reuse their intermittent catheters due to financial reasons or environmental concerns. When performing intermittent self-catheterization – especially in people with spinal cord injuries – a brand new catheter should be used each time. Reusing catheters can lead to serious health complications such as infections, urethral bleedings, and trauma.


The decision about which catheter to use (and for how long) should be based on the advice of your treating practitioner or nurse.

Should You Reuse Intermittent Catheters?

The FDA considers intermittent catheters to be single-use only. There have been attempts to develop reusable intermittent catheters and at-home sterilization techniques, but there is a lack of sufficient evidence that shows multiple-use catheters are as safe as single-use devices.


Note that certain catheter types (especially hydrophilic varieties), should never be used more than once. After removing your hydrophilic catheter, the slick pre-lubricated surface is gone, and reusing it will result in friction.


Overall, it is not recommended that patients wash and reuse an intermittent catheter, as poor cleaning techniques increase the risk of bacterial contamination. For safety and health reasons, it is advised to always use sterile, single-use catheters which are disposable.

What Are the Risks When Reusing a Catheter?

Disposable catheters often have unique features, such as a coude tip for easier insertion. This makes self-catheterization more comfortable, but it also collects tissue, blood, and other organic matter. Attempting to completely clean this residue at home is a nearly impossible task. Upon reusing such a catheter, you risk infecting (or reinfecting) yourself with viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms left behind after the first use.

Urinary Tract Infection

Contracting a urinary tract infection (UTI) is one of the biggest, most common risks of reusing an intermittent catheter. UTIs often cause pain and discomfort.


With a UTI, bacteria enter the body through the urethra and multiplies in the urinary system. Both adults and children can develop urinary tract infections.


UTIs affect either the lower urinary tract (urethra and bladder) or the upper urinary tract (ureters and kidneys). While the infection cannot be transmitted from one person to another, bacteria that caused the UTI can. Engaging in sexual activities is generally not recommended until the body has fully recovered from the infection.


Though common, UTIs may still lead to more serious complications, leading to kidney infections, kidney damage, and sepsis if left untreated.


Signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection often include:


  • The frequent urge to urinate

  • Burning sensation when urinating

  • Cloudy urine

  • Red or pink-colored urine

  • Blood in the urine

  • Fever

  • Lower back pain

  • Pelvic or rectal pain

Compromising the Effectiveness of the Catheter

When reusing a disposable catheter you may also be compromising its performance and effectiveness.


Single-use catheters have been designed for optimal one-time performance only. When rewashing or sterilizing the device at home, you weaken the integrity of the tubing, significantly increasing the risk or urethral trauma.


A urethral trauma may lead to urine leaking into the tissue surrounding the urethra. This can result in the inability to urinate, pain in the abdomen, infections, inflammation, and swelling.

If You Choose to Reuse Your Catheter, This IS What You Need to Know

If you opt to reuse your catheter, there is still a very real risk of infection, even after cleaning the device. In fact, a laboratory test studying PVC catheters found that 67% of the catheters will not be properly sanitized even when using antibacterial soap.


Regardless of the cleaning method, microorganisms remain in the catheter tubing, increasing the chances of various infections and illnesses.

Using Catheters Safely

Your doctor or nurse should provide you detailed information on how to use a catheter. Before you use any type of intermittent catheter, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.


Whenever you are self-cathing, ensure you are practicing exceptional hygiene and using adequate lubrication. Always perform catheterization in a clean bathroom, making sure to wash your hands thoroughly.


The catheter should not come into contact with any surfaces, including the bathroom sink, toilet, or walls. Never touch the end which goes into the urethra. Rinse and wash the catheter immediately after each use.


If you experience pain and discomfort during self-cathing, try a different product (such as a disposable pre-lubricated or hydrophilic catheter).


Whether you reuse your catheter or not, always contact your treating physician or nurse if you experience any of the following:


  • Temperature higher than 101° F

  • Pain around the rib area

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Chills

  • Difficulty inserting/removing the catheter

Choose Your Catheter Supplies Wisely

Most intermittent catheter users need to “cath” every 4 to 6 hours. While reusing your intermittent catheter may seem like a cost-effective solution, remember that they have been designed for one-time use only. Reusing them puts your health at risk and can ultimately cost you more than the small savings resulting from using your catheter more than once.


Express Medical Supply offers a wide variety of intermittent catheters of different styles, sizes, and price range – you’re bound to find something that suits your lifestyle!



Check out our catheter blog section for more useful information, tips, and reviews!

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