What is a Catheter?

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What is a catheter?

A urinary catheter is a thin flexible tube that is inserted into the bladder to aid in draining urine from the body. When someone cannot urinate, or has trouble controlling when they urinate, a urinary catheter is used to remove waste and fluid. There are numerous reasons people need to use a catheter. The type of catheter and duration of using a catheter depends on an individual’s specific health.   

Why use a catheter?

Reasons doctors recommend the use of a urinary catheter include:

  • Bladder weakness or nerve damage
  • Kidney or bladder stones
  • Urinary retention (when the bladder won’t voluntarily release urine)
  • Urinary leakage (when the bladder involuntarily releases)
  • A blockage or injury in the urethra
  • Urinary tract or reproductive organ tumors
  • Draining the bladder before,during and after surgery
  • An enlarged prostate (in men)

Are there different types of catheters?

Depending upon your specific health needs, there are different types of catheters you may be prescribed and different lengths of time you may need to use one. 

These include:

  • Foley (indwelling) catheter - a small water-filled balloon keeps one end of the catheter inside your bladder while the other end drains into an exterior bag that is emptied once it is full. It can remain in place for up to 3 months before replacement by your physician.
  • Intermittent catheter - this catheter is self-inserted into the bladder through the urethra as needed to relieve urine build-up, then removed after use. It can be either straight or coudé (slightly bent)  and comes in different types and lengths. It also comes in either reusable (thorough cleaning required) and disposable, single-use versions.
  • Hydrophilic catheters - has a pre-lubricated coating that helps to ensure easier and more comfortable insertion. SInce these do not require manual lubrication, they are considered more sterile and less likely to cause infection.
  • External catheters - used primarily for urine collection in men, external catheters resemble condom-like sheaths that are rolled over the penis and connect to a drainage bag. 

Side effects of catheters

There are common warning signs to be aware of when using a urinary catheter. The first and most common side effect is a urinary tract infection (UTI), as the catheter can allow germs to enter your body and cause bladder, kidney, urinary or urethra infections. 

Other common side effects include:

  • Pain in your abdomen or groin
  • Fever
  • Bladder stones
  • Bloody urine
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Kidney infection
  • Kidney damage

The best way to avoid complications from catheter use is to:

  • Thoroughly wash hands with warm soap and water before and after handling catheter materials
  • Practice good personal hygiene around catheter entrance site, cleansing it twice daily
  • Follow proper catheter insertion/removal instructions

Will I need a catheter if I am diabetic?

Diabetics sometimes need to use a catheter. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, is a side effect of diabetes. In the case of nerve damage to the bladder, it is referred to as “diabetic bladder.” This occurs when the nerves in the bladder lose the ability to sense when the bladder is full. When the bladder isn’t properly emptied, it can get over-stretched, causing damage not only to the bladder itself, but to the kidneys, as well. In addition, when urine is held too long, it can become infected and cause even further, more serious infection. 

Diabetes and catheter use makes it possible to empty the bladder regularly and completely, giving it a chance to recover and return to normal performance.

Early detection is possible, but even if diabetic bladder can’t be avoided, treatments through catheterization make recovery possible. 

Early signs include:

  • Changes in how frequently you urinate, 
  • How urgently you feel the need to urinate and 
  • How much urine is voided and 
  • Infection (such as UTI)

Are catheters covered by insurance?

Insurance coverage for catheter supplies varies based upon your particular plan coverage. 

Living with a catheter

In the beginning, you may find living with a catheter uncomfortable and challenging, however, over time it simply becomes part of your healthcare routine. You will learn what healthy urine looks like, just by observing things like color, volume, and if there is any blood or debris.  Keep in mind though that things like food or medication can change the color of urine drastically. 

Some of the other questions we can help answer include:

  • How do I use my catheter on my own?
  • Can I reuse my catheter? 
  • How often should I catheterize daily with my intermittent catheter?
  • Can I exercise using a catheter?
  • How will catheterization affect my sex life?
  • Are there catheters specifically for women?
  • Are there catheters specifically for men?

So if you have a question we haven't answered, please give us a call at 877-840-8218 today.


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