blog-back

A Comprehensive Guide to Self-Catheterization

There are a variety of ways to manage urinary retention, but what’s best for you?

In this blog post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about intermittent self-catheterization and answer some of the most frequently asked questions. 

What is intermittent self-catheterization?

An intermittent catheter is a type of urinary catheter consisting of a long flexible tube with a funnel on one and a tip on the other. The catheter is inserted into the body using the catheter tip, allowing urine to flow down the tube and out the funnel end.

Intermittent self-catheterization (ISC) is the process of inserting and removing an intermittent catheter from the bladder to drain urine. This process is typically done four to six times a day.

Since they are not left in the body like indwelling catheters, intermittent catheters can significantly decrease your risk of a bladder infection. With practice and guidance, you can self-catheterize on your own. To find out which intermittent catheter would work best for you, start by taking our production selection quiz.

Who should self catheterize?

Self-catheterization is best for managing urinary retention, meaning that you are unable to fully empty your bladder naturally. There are a variety of conditions that can cause urinary retention.

Common causes of urinary retention:

  • Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH): is the enlargement of the prostate gland. As the prostate gland continues to grow it pushes against the urethra and causes the bladder walls to thicken, which can make it harder to pass urine.
  • Weak bladder muscles: can be caused by age, damage, or other reasons. Weak bladder muscles may be unable to fully contract to empty the bladder.
  • Urethral strictures: narrowing of the urethra can prevent urine flow.
  • Nerve damage: often due to spinal cord injuries, can interrupt signals between the brain and bladder, causing urinary retention.
  • Medication: some medications can interrupt signals between the brain and bladder, causing urinary retention.
  • Pelvic or spinal surgery: can cause urinary retention temporarily or permanently due to trauma, swelling, and scarring on or around the urinary system.
  • Birth abnormality: some birth abnormalities, mainly those that affect the urinary system, nerves, and/or spinal cord, can cause urinary retention.


Who shouldn’t self-catheterize?

While intermittent catheters are great for managing urinary retention, they are not fit for managing all types of bladder conditions.

Self-catheterization removes residual urine that is left in the bladder but doesn’t prevent urine from leaking out.

Those who experience bladder conditions such as urinary incontinence can consider alternative methods, like external catheters, to manage their condition.

To learn more about managing urinary incontinence, see our blog post here.

Advantages of self-catheterization

There are many benefits of intermittent self-catheterization that make it the ideal choice for many individuals, including:

  • Reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs): because intermittent catheters don’t remain in the body like indwelling catheters, they significantly decrease the risk of infection. Although, it is important to note that you will still have bacteria in the urine. This does not necessarily need treatment, but it is important to be aware of so you are not concerned if urine studies show bacteria.
  • More freedom and independence: compared to indwelling catheters, which are often connected to a bag, intermittent catheters are inserted and removed within minutes. This eliminates the need for a bag, which means you have one less thing to worry about.
  • User friendly: with practice, many find intermittent catheterization easy. Even young children can learn to safely catheterize on their own. For more information on cathing for kids, see our blog post here.
  • Safe: when used properly under the instruction of a medical professional, you can safely catheterize on your own.


Side effects of self-catheterization 

Although there are many benefits of intermittent self-catheterization, in rare cases, some individuals may suffer some side effects, such as:

  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): can occur from improper technique, not catheterizing regularly, and when the catheter causes urethral damage, making it more susceptible to bacteria.
  • Urethral complications: frequent catheterization, wrong insertion, and/or poor lubrication can cause complications such as urethral strictures, irritation, and bleeding.
  • Epididymitis/epididymoorchitis: which is an infection of the epididymis, epididymis or testes, can occur in men using intermittent catheters, common in men with spinal cord injuries.
  • Blood in urine (Hematuria): commonly experienced when a person is first learning to self-catheterize.
  • Prostatitis: inflammation and swelling of the prostate gland.


How to self-catheterize

With practice, you can successfully catheterize on your own without supervision. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to consult your doctor for further instructions first.

Self-catheterizing for men

1. Have your supplies ready.

Recommended supplies:

  • Catheter
  • Lubricant
  • Alcohol-free antiseptic wipe
  • Collection bag (if you use one)
  • Gloves (optional)

2. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, then dry completely. If soap and water are unavailable, use an antibacterial hand sanitizer. After doing so, you may also choose to wear gloves for extra precaution.

3. Remove your catheter from its packaging and apply additional lubricants if you use any.

4. Hold your penis and retract the foreskin if uncircumcised, then clean the tip of the penis by gently wiping the area with an alcohol-free antiseptic wipe.

5. Situate yourself comfortably and hold your penis at a 45-degree angle away from your body. Slowly insert the catheter into your urethra. If you are using a coude tip catheter, make sure the tip is pointed up. If at any time you feel pain or resistance, take a deep breath, relax, and try again while exhaling. Start over if necessary.

6. Once urine begins to flow, insert the catheter about 2.5 inches further. Then you can lower your penis to allow urine to flow naturally. After urine stops flowing, shift your body a few times to make sure all urine has been emptied, then slowly remove your catheter. If more urine drains as you are removing the catheter, wait for several seconds until the flow of urine stops. Make sure you replace the foreskin over the penis if you are circumcised.

7. Dispose of your catheter and any additional used supplies. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.

Note: Most intermittent catheters are single-use and must be thrown away immediately after use. It’s important to never reuse a single-use catheter to prevent infections or other complications.

Self-catheterizing for women

1. Have your supplies ready.

Recommended supplies:

  • Catheter
  • Lubricant
  • Alcohol-free antiseptic wipe
  • Collection bag (if you use one)
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Handheld mirror (optional)

2. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, then dry completely. If soap and water are unavailable, use an antibacterial hand sanitizer. After doing so, you may also choose to wear gloves for extra precaution.

3. Remove your catheter from its packaging and apply additional lubricants if you use any. Clean the urethra by separating the labia and gently wiping it with an alcohol-free antiseptic wipe.

4. Situate yourself comfortably with your thighs spread apart. Many women find it helpful to squat slightly or to place one foot on a raised surface. Others will sit.

5. Slowly insert the catheter into your urethra. If you are using a coude tip catheter, make sure the tip is pointed up. If at any time you feel pain or resistance, take a deep breath, relax, and try again as you exhale. Start over if necessary.

6. Once urine begins to flow, insert the catheter about one inch further. After urine stops flowing, shift your body a few times to make sure all urine has been emptied, then slowly remove your catheter. If more urine drains as you are removing the catheter, wait for several seconds until the flow of urine stops.

7. Dispose of your catheter and any additional used supplies. Wash your hands again with warm water and soap

Note: Most intermittent catheters are single-use and must be thrown away immediately after use. It’s important to never reuse a single-use catheter to prevent injury and complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s normal to have a lot of questions when first starting to self-cath. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and how to address them.

When can I stop self-catheterization?

Depending on your condition, self-catheterization can be a permanent or temporary treatment.

What are the side effects of self-catheterization? 

While self-catheterization is safe and user-friendly, even the most experienced user can run into problems. In this blog post, you can find a list of the most common cathing problems, and how you can address them.

Is intermittent self-catheterization painful?

Although you may experience some discomfort as you first learn to self-cath, when inserted correctly, it should not be painful.

If you’re continuously experiencing pain or discomfort, consult your healthcare provider about changing your technique or intermittent catheter. In this blog post, we discuss common causes of catheter pain and how to treat them.

Can self-catheterization cause bleeding?

Catheter insertion may cause occasional bleeding, but it should not happen all the time. Frequent bleeding may be a sign of improper technique or a greater issue that should be addressed by a healthcare professional.

Can you self-catheterize while traveling?

Yes, there are a variety of ways to safely and confidently self-catheterize while traveling. With the right preparation and information, self-catheterization can take place almost anywhere. Check out our blog post here for our top tips on traveling with catheters.  

Interested in self-catheterization?

Whether you’ve been self-cathing for years or are looking to start, Better Health offers a variety of products and services to make catheterizing easier for you.

Resources:

  • Shop intermittent catheters: Better Health carries a wide range of intermittent catheters in different sizes, tips, lubricants, and other features.
  • Blog: covers topics such as how to choose the best catheter for you, common cathing problems, and more.
  • Product Selection Quiz: recommends the best intermittent catheter(s) for you after six easy questions.


In addition to offering many resources, Better Health works directly with your insurance and doctor to make getting your supplies easy. Interested in learning more?

Give us a call at 415-475-8444 or send us an email and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Need ordering help?
415-475-8444

We are asking you a few questions to
determine if Better Health can help you
meet your needs.

It shouldn't take longer than one minute of your time.

What type of insurance do you have?

Select all that apply. This helps us bill your insurance so you don’t pay out of pocket.

Danielle Poreh

Oops!

Unfortunately at this time we’re only able to serve people with insurance.
We’re working on it though!

Get a free price quote

Danielle Poreh

Better Health Membership Benefits

  • Free & Fast 2-day shipping.
  • Personal care team
  • Easy re-orders via SMS
  • Access to free samples
  • Widest product selection

Almost there! Complete your order request below.

Danielle Poreh

Better Health Membership Benefits

  • Free & Fast 2-day shipping.
  • Personal care team
  • Easy re-orders via SMS
  • Access to free samples
  • Widest product selection

How can Better Health help you today?