A urinary catheter is a medical device specially designed to help people with urinary retention and urinary incontinence.
Your first catheter will be inserted under sterile conditions in a hospital or a healthcare center. If the catheter is required due to surgery, most people will leave the hospital with a urinary Foley catheter in place.
While at first having a catheter might seem overwhelming and confusing, know that it will soon become a normal part of everyday life. Here’s what you should know about going home with your new urinary device.
What Is a Urinary Catheter?
A urinary catheter is a thin tube that is inserted into the bladder either via the urethra (urethral catheter) or through a small opening in the lower abdomen (suprapubic catheter). The catheter allows urine to flow through it and drain into a toilet or a urine collection bag.
The bladder is a hollow organ that stores urine. If it isn’t emptied properly, urine build-up can put extra pressure on the kidneys, resulting in serious health complications like kidney failure.
For many patients, a urine catheter is only necessary until they are able to go back to urinating naturally. In cases of serious illness or permanent injury, however, a catheter may be required for a longer period of time.
Reasons You Might Need a Catheter After Surgery
Urinary catheters can be inserted for a variety of reasons such as injuries to the urethra, enlarged prostate, nerve damage, urethral blockage, and bladder weakness.
A catheter is sometimes needed after surgery, often due to prostatectomy or surgery in the genital area.
Prostatectomy is a surgical procedure for men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia. It involves the partial or complete removal of the prostatic gland. After surgery, men will need to use a urinary catheter for at least 5 days. If there are any complications, the catheter may be used on a longer-term basis.
If you have undergone surgery in the genital area, your doctor will likely insert a urinary catheter to prevent urine incontinence. The length of treatment depends on the type of surgery, recovery time, and whether any complications exist.
Different Types of Catheters
Different catheter types match various medical conditions and lifestyles. If you think you need to use a catheter – or are not satisfied with your current device – consult your doctor or nurse about the option that will work best for you.
A straight catheter is an intermittent device that can be used before or after surgery, as well as during birth. Intermittent catheters are disposable and meant for short-term use only. They are inserted into the bladder via the urethra and – once the bladder is drained – the catheter is thrown away.
A straight catheter is characterized by a simple, straight design. The insertion tip of the device has small holes (eyelets) that allow urine to flow directly into a toilet or container.
A coude catheter is a device with a slightly curved or angled tip. These are primarily used by men who have difficulty inserting a straight-tip catheter. Coude-tip catheters may be needed due to an enlarged prostate, false passages, or urethral stricture.
Coude catheters are typically designed to be single-use intermittent catheters.
A Foley catheter (also referred to as an indwelling catheter) is a hollow, flexible tube that allows urine to drain continuously. It is pushed up the urethra until it reaches the bladder, where the balloon is inflated. This ballon helps keep the Foley tubing in place.
The other end of the catheter is connected to a urine drainage bag. Once the device is inserted in the bladder, urine flows through the tube and into the bag.
The procedure of inserting the catheter is performed at a hospital or healthcare center. This type of catheter usually remains in the bladder long-term.
A suprapubic catheter is a hollow, flexible tube that is inserted into the bladder via an abdominal incision (usually a few inches below the navel). This type of catheter is inserted by a healthcare professional in a hospital.
Suprapubic catheters are usually used when there is urethral damage, or if the patient cannot/does not want to use a urethral catheter.
A condom catheter (also known as an external or Texas catheter) is a less-invasive urinary incontinence treatment for men. It is a thin, flexible sheath placed over the penis, similar to a condom.
Reasons to use a condom catheter include limited access to a toilet (due to conditions such as decreased mobility or impaired vision), unmanageable urinary urgency, and sphincter damage due to a prostatectomy.
How to Care for Your Catheter at Home
When you leave the hospital, your nurse or doctor should provide everything you need to continue catheter self-care at home.
If you are using an intermittent catheter know that these devices are designed to be disposed of after just one use, therefore no additional care is required. Some patients choose to clean and reuse intermittent devices, however, this increases the risk of infections and urethral traumas. Unless recommended by a doctor, intermittent catheters should not be cleaned and reused at home.
If you have an indwelling, suprapubic, or condom catheter, you will likely be required to use a urine collection bag. It is important that the bag is securely strapped to your lower leg or thigh. To prevent the catheter from being pulled out, secure the tubing to your thigh using medical tape or a special device called a Bard Statlock.
To empty your leg bag, simply remove the cap, open the clamp, and let the urine drain into a toilet. To prevent infection, do not touch the drainage port or let the port touch the toilet.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
A few days after your surgery, you may notice that your bladder has become more sensitive. It is sensible to limit the consumption of foods and drinks that can cause bladder irritation (e.g. alcoholic beverages, coffee, carbonated drinks, lemon juice, spicy food).
How to Clean Your Catheter
If you have a Foley or suprapubic catheter, do not try to remove or change it yourself. If you experience any difficulties, be sure to call your treating physician.
It’s essential to keep your catheter and the surrounding skin clean. As you clean the area around your catheter, look out for signs of infection around the urethral opening. Contact your nurse or doctor if you notice any redness, pus, swelling, or pain.
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
- If uncircumcised, pull back the foreskin of the penis.
- Using soapy water and a washcloth, begin cleaning the area around the urethral opening.
- Be careful to wipe from the tip of the penis downward to prevent spreading germs and bacteria into the urethra.
- Gently hold the catheter and wash the rest of the device, moving down towards the leg bag. Never clean from the bottom of the catheter up towards the genitals.
- Completely rinse any soap off your genital area. Ensure that there is no soap residue left behind.
- Pat the area dry with a clean towel.
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
- Using one hand, open the labia and locate the urethral opening.
- Clean the urethra area using soapy water and a washcloth. Be sure to wipe back towards the anus to help stop bacteria and germs from entering the urethra.
- Wash the rest of the catheter, moving down towards the leg bag. Never clean from the bottom of the catheter up towards the genitals.
- Rinse off any soap residue.
- Pat the area dry using a clean towel.
Should You Use a Different Catheter at Night?
In general, if you have an indwelling or a suprapubic catheter, you will not need to change the urinary device. In most cases, however, you will have to regularly change the urine collection bag.
There are two main types of urine collection bags: leg bags and night drainage bags. A leg bag is attached to the leg that can be worn during the day. A night drainage bag is a larger bag that should be connected to your catheter before going to bed.
The leg bag should be emptied whenever it gets half full. For most people, this is every three to four hours.
A night drainage bag holds more urine and is meant to be used overnight. If you spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, your nurse or doctor may recommend using a night drainage bag during the day.
How to Change a Leg Bag to a Night Drainage Bag
- First, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Using a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol, clean the tip of the night drainage bag.
- To prevent leaks, pinch the catheter tube before disconnecting the leg bag from the device.
- Remove the leg bag and connect the night bag to the catheter tubing.
- Wash and clean the leg bag with soapy water and hang to dry.
Risks of Using a Catheter
Many people use a catheter without experiencing any serious complications. Common risks of using catheters include infections (e.g. urinary tract infections), blood in the urine, and bladder spasms.
Contact a medical facility or your treating physician if:
- Urine leaks around the catheter
- Urine stops draining from the catheter
- You notice cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- You see blood or mucus in the urine
- You have a fever (101° F) and/or abdominal pain
- The skin around the catheter becomes red and irritated
Best Place to Get A Catheter
Urinary catheters come in a variety of sizes, materials, and styles. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all device, so you might need to try different catheters before finding the best one for you.
Discover more about urinary catheters and how to care for them via our blog!