Having trouble urinating can be a serious problem, but a catheter might help you. A catheter a thin and hollow tube that can pass through your bladder to drain your urine. But how do catheters work and how can they help you?

A catheter has two ends: one that attaches to the valve or drainage and one that sits in the bladder. It might look simple and easy to use.

What are catheters for?

Aside from people having difficulty urinating, catheters are also for those who are undergoing surgery. They can use this tool to help empty their bladders since they may not be able to control their bladder because of anesthesia. Other people use catheters because they might have:

  • Scarring or prostate enlargement
  • Nerve damage
  • A surgical incision prone to urine contact
  • Difficulty using a bedpan
  • Urinary incontinence

Catheter types and how catheters work

There are many types of catheters to choose from, each catering to a different need. They look and function differently, your physician and healthcare team will discuss and help you choose which type is best for you. Here are some of the different types of catheter:

Indwelling urinary catheters 

An indwelling catheter, also known as a Foley catheter, is designed to enter your body. At the tip of the cathether (the part that is inserted into the urethra), there is a small balloon that is inflated with water to prevent it from falling out. The balloon will be deflated once it is time to remove the catheter. The foley catheter is attached to a drainage bag to collect your urine. You can further divide indwelling catheters into two kinds:

Urethral catheter

You don’t have to insert an indwelling catheter on your own because a healthcare professional will help you. They can apply an anesthetic gel so that you won’t feel discomfort as they insert the appliance through the opening on your genitals called the urethra. 

Suprapubic catheter

When long-term catheterization is required. This type of catheterization requires surgery. Surgeons will create an incision a few inches below your navel for the tube to pass through. After the initial insertion of the suprapubic catheter, you or one of your family members can learn how to change it.  

You may be given this catheterization option for many reasons. In general, people who are sexually active, have urethral trauma, have had a gynecological operation, or can’t self-catheterize can choose to use a suprapubic catheter. 

Indwelling catheters can be for short-term or long-term use. 

Short-term catheter

Your nurse might insert a short-term catheter if you’ve recently been through an operation or have an obstruction. They may do this temporary method to record your bladder pressure or introduce therapeutic drugs into your body. You can use this for less than 30 days.

Long-term catheter

A long-term catheter can stay in place for over 30 days before it needs replacement. However, it’s usually discouraged. That’s because it might make you prone to urinary tract infections (UTI). Healthcare professionals might consider it only as a last resort to manage intractable urinary incontinence. 

Condom catheters

Men who are unable to control their bladder (bladder incontinence) use this external catheter, which is placed over the penis like a condom. In addition,  the use of a condom catheter can be prescribed due to an overactive bladder, mobility issue, or dementia. 

A condom catheter’s benefits include easy wear and comfort. You can put it on without the help of a nurse or doctor. And you can move more freely with a condom catheter on. A condom catheter decreases your chances of getting a UTI in comparison to an indwelling catheter.

However, it also has a few disadvantages. The catheter might cause skin irritation if your urine leaks and trigger allergies from the latex or adhesive. It may also be painful to remove because of its sticky texture. Condom catheters can also fall off easily. 

Intermittent catheters 

Intermittent catheterization is a method for people who cannot fully empty their bladders. It allows you to practice self-catheterization throughout the day (every four to six hours) by inserting the tube into your bladder. It may seem overwhelming at first but a health professional will teach you how to do it and offer you support until you can confidently do it on your own. 

There are also different catheters used for intermittent self-catheterization. Here are some examples:

Coated catheters

This PVC or silicone-based catheter is best for single use. It has a hydrophilic coating that allows for easy insertion since it makes the catheter’s surface slippery.  

Non-coated catheters

You can wash or reuse a non-coated catheter that may come in materials like PVC, silicone, silver, or stainless steel. This type has many sizes, too. But since stainless steel and silver catheters are rigid, it’s best for women because they have a shorter urethra.

Pre-lubricated catheters

If you have a busy lifestyle or limited access to clean water, a pre-lubricated catheter may be for you. It doesn’t require any preparation and can be used straight from the packet. The catheter already has a water-soluble gel that may make inserting it easy. 

Catheters and self-catheterization

You can catheterize on your own. Here are the steps to follow:

For men

  1. Try to urinate first.
  2. Gather your catheterization supplies.
  3. Wash and dry your hands.
  4. If you are using a container, place it between your legs. 
  5. Clean your penis with soap and water.
  6. Apply the lubricating jelly on the catheter and point the other end to the toilet bowl.
  7. Insert the tube in the opening of your penis until urine flows. After that, you can insert it an inch more.
  8. Drain your bladder of urine.
  9. Slowly pull out the catheter and throw it away if it’s disposable. If it’s not, you can clean it with warm and soapy water.
  10. Wash your hands. 

For women

  1. Clean and dry your hands.
  2. Prepare your catheter, lubricant, and other supplies.
  3. Wash and dry your vulva, the outer part of your genitals.
  4. You can either stand or sit on the toilet. If you choose to stand, you can raise one leg over a chair or the toilet. If you want to sit, you can either lift one of your legs or keep your feet together, then spread your knees apart.
  5. Lubricate your catheter.
  6. Spread your labia with your non-dominant hand and insert the catheter with your dominant hand through the urethral opening (the hole below your clitoris and above your vagina). 
  7. Slowly pull the catheter out once the draining has stopped.
  8. Dispose of your catheter. If you need to use it again, you can clean it with soapy water.
  9. Wash your hands. 

Before you purchase your catheter, get in touch with your healthcare provider. They can assess what type of catheter you need and recommend the best fit for you. You can also consult with one of our experts at Better Health. Call 415-475-8444 today.

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