Are Urinary Catheters?
Urinary catheters are hollow, partially flexible tubes that
collect urine from the bladder. Urinary catheters come in many sizes and types.
Catheters can be made of:
- plastic (PVC)
The catheter tube leads to a drainage bag that holds
Catheters are generally necessary when a patient is unable
to empty their bladder. If the bladder isn’t emptied, urine can build up and
lead to pressure in the kidneys. The pressure can result in kidney failure,
which can be dangerous and may result in permanent damage to the kidneys.
Most catheters are necessary until the patient regains the
ability to urinate on their own, which is usually a short period of time.
Elderly people and those with a permanent injury or severe illness may need to
use urinary catheters for a much longer amount of time and sometimes on a
Are Urinary Catheters Used?
A doctor may recommend a catheter if you’re unable to
control when you urinate, if you’re leaking urine (urinary incontinence), or if
you’re unable to empty your bladder when you need to (urinary retention).
The reasons why you may not be able to urinate on your own
- blocked urine flow due to bladder or kidney
stones, blood clots in the urine, or severe enlargement of the prostate gland
- surgery on your prostate gland
- surgery in the genital area, such as a hip
fracture repair or hysterectomy
- injury to the nerves of the bladder
- spinal cord injury
- a condition that impairs your mental function,
such as dementia
- medications that impair the ability of your
bladder muscles to squeeze, which causes urine to remain stuck in your bladder
Are the Types of Urinary Catheters?
There are three main types of catheters.
Indwelling Catheters (Urethral or Suprapubic Catheters)
An indwelling catheter is a catheter that resides in the
bladder. It may also be known as a Foley catheter. This type can be useful for
both short and long periods of time. A doctor usually inserts an indwelling
catheter into the bladder through the urethra.
Sometimes, a doctor will insert the catheter into the
bladder through a tiny hole in the abdomen. This type of indwelling catheter is
known as a suprapubic catheter.
A tiny balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated to
prevent the tube from sliding out of the body. The balloon can then deflate
when the catheter needs to be removed.
External Catheters (Condom Catheters)
A condom catheter is a catheter placed outside the body.
This type of catheter is typically necessary for men who don’t have urinary
retention problems but have serious functional or mental disabilities, such as
dementia. A device that looks like a condom covers the penis head. A tube leads
from the condom device to a drainage bag.
These catheters are generally more comfortable and carry a
lower risk of infection than indwelling catheters. Condom catheters need to be
Short-Term (Intermittent) Catheters
Sometimes a patient only needs a catheter for a short period
of time after surgery. After the bladder empties, it’s necessary to remove the
Are the Potential Complications of Urinary Catheters?
According to an article in BMC Urology, indwelling urinary catheters are the leading cause
of healthcare-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs). Therefore, it’s important
to routinely clean catheters to prevent infections. The symptoms of a UTI may
- cloudy urine (due to pus)
- burning of the urethra or genital area
- leaking of urine out of the catheter
- blood in the urine
- foul-smelling urine
- low back pain and achiness
Other complications from using a urinary catheter include:
- allergic reaction to the material used in the
catheter, such as latex
- bladder stones
- blood in the urine
- injury to the urethra
- kidney damage (with long-term indwelling
- infection of the urinary tract, kidney, or blood
Do You Care for a Urinary Catheter?
Be sure to clean both the catheter and the area where the
catheter enters the body with soap and water to reduce the risk of a UTI. You
should also drink plenty of water to keep your urine clear or only slightly
yellow. This will help prevent infection.
Empty the drainage bag used to collect the urine at least
every eight hours and whenever the bag is full. Use a plastic squirt bottle
containing a mixture of vinegar and water or bleach and water to clean the