What is a urinary catheter?

Catheters are thin, hollow tubes that certain people use who need help with urinary leakage, have problems urinating, have recently had a surgery that made using a catheter necessary, have medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or dementia, or have problems with their prostate or genitals. Catheters come in many different sizes, materials and types. Catheters drain urine out of their bladder by inserting the tube of the catheter into the urethra. Hygiene is extremely important when using catheters. Before inserting the catheter, you must wash your hands. After you wash your hands, gather the supplies for the catheter. If it is to uncomfortable for you to use your bare hands, you can always use gloves while inserting the catheter instead.

 


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Hygiene

Using a catheter is similar but different for men and women. For men, if you are not circumcised, then you must move back the foreskin on your penis. Clean the tip of your penis however your doctor showed you (usually this is with an antiseptic towelette). Apply the gel you were given to the top two inches of the catheter to moisten for easy insertion. Then with one hand, hold your penis and with the other hand gently insert the catheter. Do not try to force it in, you want to remain calm. Try to relax and breathe deeply.

For women, you also must wash your hands and collect your catheter supplies (these supplies may come in the form of a kit). The option of gloves to insert the catheter instead of using your bare hands is still viable. Then, gently open the labia and find the urinary opening. Using a mirror for the first couple of times may help you get the hang of it. Wash your labia front to back, up and down and down the middle three times. When cleaning your labia, you will want to use an antiseptic towelette, baby wipe, or just a couple of cotton balls with some soap and water. If you choose to use soap and water, remember to rinse and dry thoroughly so it does not become irritated. Then apply whatever gel you were provided by the doctor to the top two inches of the catheter. While you hold your labia, gently insert the catheter in the urinary opening. Remain calm and do not force the catheter in. Be as gentle as possible. After using the catheter, clean your labia and urinary opening again like you did prior to insertion. Finally, you must wash your hands again.


General Information

Some general knowledge:

  • If you choose to shower with your catheter, avoid very hot or very cold water.
  • After each bowel movement, wash your body around where the catheter enters it with soap and water.
  • Avoid having sex.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
  • To avoid constipation, eat food with high amounts of fiber and drink lots of water.
  • Do not pull on your catheter.
  • Empty the drainage bag every 8 hours or whenever the bag is full.
  • Use a plastic bottle that squirts that has a mixture of vinegar, water and bleach to clean the drainage bag.

It is very important to stay extremely hydrated while using a long-term indwelling catheter. Why? It can help reduce the possibility of blockages or UTIs. Symptoms of UTIs include: fever, chills, headache, cloudy urine due to pus, burning of the urethra or genital area, leaking urine out of catheter, blood in urine, foul-smelling urine, lower back pain and achiness. Avoiding constipation with high fiber foods and vegetables is very important, because constipation can cause problems with drainage and leaking around the catheter.


Types of Catheters

There are three main types of urinary catheters. The three main types are indwelling, external and short-term. An indwelling catheter is a catheter that is inserted by a nurse into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine for short or long periods of time. This is also known as the foley catheter. Sometimes it will be inserted through a tiny hole in the abdomen, which is known as a suprapubic catheter. On the end of these catheters there is a tiny balloon that is filled with water to prevent the catheter from sliding out of your body. When the balloon deflates, this is how we know that the catheter needs to be removed.

The second type of catheters are external catheters, also known as, condom catheters. External catheters are placed outside of the body. For men the device looks just like a condom. The catheter covers the head of the penis and a tube leads the device to a drainage bag. This type of catheter is normally used for men who have serious functional or mental disabilities. These catheters have a lower risk of infection when compared to the indwelling catheters. Normally these types of catheters need to be changed daily but some are made for longer use.

The third type of catheters are called short-term catheters, also known as, intermittent catheters. Usually these types of catheters are used for people who need them after surgery until their bladder empties. This can also be referred to by medical professionals as an in-and-out catheter. It can be used at home, but people must be first trained to do so.

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