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Intermittent Catheter Types, Sizes, and How to Use


 choosing types of intermittent catheters

Intermittent catheters are used to drain urine through the urethra. The intermittent catheter is inserted through the urethra and left in only until the bladder has been emptied.

There are a few factors to consider when choosing an intermittent catheter, such as material, tube tip, and lubrication. This may seem overwhelming – especially for first time users – but with the right information and products, you’ll manage to make the transition as smoothly as possible.

This product guide will cover:
    • What Is an Intermittent Catheter?
    • Why Do I Need an Intermittent Catheter?
    • What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Catheterization?
    • What Are the Different Types of Intermittent Catheters?
    • How to Choose the Right Size.
    • How to Use an Intermittent Catheter.
  • Potential Complications of Intermittent Catheterization.

What Is an Intermittent Catheter?

A urinary catheter is typically used to help people who cannot empty their bladder on their own. These thin, flexible tubes are used to drain urine and are often used for temporary bladder management or urinary retention management. The process of draining the bladder using an intermittent catheter is called catheterization.

Intermittent urinary catheters can be inserted and removed as needed. Unlike other types of catheters, short-term catheters do not require a drainage bag (which offers more comfort and freedom of movement). These single-use catheters should be disposed of when the bladder has been emptied.

Why Do I Need an Intermittent Catheter?

An intermittent catheter may be prescribed to male and female patients who have recently undergone abdominal hysterectomy, genital or prostate surgery. Conditions such as dementia, multiple sclerosis, urinary retention, prostate enlargement, urinary incontinence, and spinal cord injuries may also result in an individual requiring a catheter.

What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Catheterization?

The greatest benefit of intermittent catheters is that there isn’t a permanent catheter in the bladder. Intermittent self-catheterization also mimics normal bladder function like filling and emptying. Performing catheterization several times a day helps to keep the bladder from stretching and also reduces the risk of infection.

What Are the Different Types of Intermittent Catheters?

Intermittent catheters vary in terms of types, materials, and sizes. Major catheter brands (such as Coloplast and Hollister) most commonly use silicone, latex, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials.

Latex catheters are very flexible and soft. Silicone devices are often smoother, more durable, and firmer than latex. Vinyl catheters are the firmest, however, they can still be maneuvered easily.

When choosing an intermittent catheter, it is advisable to consider the type of tip that the device comes with (i.e. coude, straight-tip catheters). The most common types of intermittent catheters are straight catheters, coude-tip catheters, hydrophilic catheters, and closed-system catheters.

Straight Catheters

Straight-tip intermittent catheters are the most commonly used short-term catheters. These are often made from silicone or latex and come in a variety of lengths. Typically, these are non-hyrdrophilic or uncoated catheters, which means that you will need to use lubrication, either by using a sterile lubricant or individual packets.

Coude Catheters

Coude tip catheters are bent or slightly curved towards the end, allowing the tube to bypass problem areas such as blockages or enlarged prostates. In most cases, a coude-tip catheter is used when catheter users feel pain and discomfort when inserting a straight-tip catheter.

Common conditions that may require coude-tip catheterization include benign prostatic hyperplasia, prostate surgery, false passages in the urethra, radiation in the pelvic area (due to cancer treatments), and urethral trauma.

Hydrophilic Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters are similar to straight catheters, but contain a hydrophilic coating that is activated with either water or sterile saline. The water or saline packet is used to wet the device and activate the lubricated coating. Some brands, like SpeediCath, provide hydrophilic catheters that are ready to use and do not require additional supplies.

Hydrophilic catheters allow for smooth insertion and removal of the device without the need of a separate lubricant. These catheters are a good option for frequent catheter users, or for those who feel pressure, discomfort, or pain during catheterization.

Closed-System Catheters

Closed-system catheters are convenient, easy to use, and carry a lower risk of infection and bacteria build-up. They come pre-lubricated and they are inside of a bag, so no contact is made with the catheter. Urine is drained into the bag, which can then be disposed of.

Urine collection bags allow catheterization without the need to search for a toilet, separate bag, or container. Closed-system catheters are a good option for people who get frequent UTIs or for wheelchair users.

How to Choose the Right Size

Choosing the right size for your body is vital. If the catheter is too long, it might be hard to handle, and if it’s too short, it will not empty the bladder properly.

Sizes are generally divided into three catheter length types: female, male, and pediatric. Female and pediatric-length catheters are designed for shorter urethral lengths. A female catheter is typically between 6-8 inches long and a pediatric one is often between 10 -12 inches long. Male catheter lengths are often around 16 inches long.

Consult with your healthcare professional when choosing between the different types of catheters and sizes. 

Best Intermittent Catheters for Males

Best Intermittent Catheters for Females

How to Use an Intermittent Catheter

Your healthcare provider will give you detailed information on how to properly use an intermittent catheter, as well as how often you should empty your bladder.

Before you use any intermittent catheter, ensure you read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

  1. The most important step before self-catheterization is to wash your hands thoroughly. Depending on your preference, you may also use clean, disposable gloves.
  2. Ensure that the genital area is clean and dry. The area around the urethra must be cleaned properly (in order to prevent bacteria from entering the urethra and bladder) before catheterizing.
  3. To begin the process, peel back the paper side of the packet, making sure you don’t touch the catheter. The catheter should remain in the clear packet. Most intermittent catheter users find it easiest to insert the device in a sitting position
    1. Women should open the labia using their fingers and insert the catheter into the urethral opening until urine begins to flow. If you feel unsure, you may use a freestanding magnifying mirror. If the catheter feels stuck, do not force it. Remove the device and try again later.
    2. Men are advised to hold the penis angled slightly upwards, squeeze the head of the penis, and insert the catheter until urine starts to drain. Uncircumcised men should move back the foreskin of the penis before inserting the catheter.
  4. Let the urine drain into the toilet or a special container. Once the urine flow has stopped, the catheter can be removed.
  5. When removing the device, place a finger over the end of the tube to avoid leakage. The intermittent cathetercan be disposed of in the normal trash. Do not flush the catheter or its packaging down the toilet.

Most people are recommended to self-catheterize every 4-6 hours, as well as right before going to bed and first thing in the morning.

What Are the Potential Complications of Intermittent Catheterization?

While intermittent catheters reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) – compared to indwelling catheters – maintain good hygiene as infections can still occur.

Urine left in the bladder for long periods may lead to bladder distention, UTIs, and bladder infections. To reduce the risk of complications, ensure that you drain urine regularly and use a new, sterile catheter each time you perform self-catheterization.

Urinary tract infections are the most common complication of using an intermittent catheter. UTIs may be caused by a bad catheterization technique, as the catheter can push bacteria into the bladder. Common symptoms of a UTI include fever, foul-smelling urine, nausea, abdomen or bladder spasms, and blood in the urine.

Some individuals may experience urethral bleeding, inflammation, bladder stones, and pain or discomfort during self-catheterization. Pain and discomfort can be managed with adequate lubrication, though they are typically reduced over time.

For many, the thought of performing self-catheterization may seem daunting, but intermittent catheters give you the freedom to choose when and where to empty your bladder. With time, practice, and the right catheterization kit, the process can easily become a part of your daily routine.

Find more catheter information, as well as product reviews, in our catheter blog section!

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