There are many different catheters in the medical world. Urinary catheters are thin, flexible tubes that drain urine from the bladder via the urethra or a surgically made hole on the abdomen. They aid patients that have conditions such as incontinence and urine retention. Catheters can be used permanently (indwelling catheters) or as required (intermittent catheters). But can you reuse a catheter?

Many catheters are single-use items that patients should discard after one use. However, some patients incorrectly reuse disposable catheters in their desire to be more cost-effective. But reused catheters frequently fail to operate effectively in terms of safety and efficacy, putting a patient’s health and well-being at risk.

With this guide, you can take the first steps into understanding just what urinary catheters are and when it’s safe to reuse a catheter.

What are urinary catheters?

Urinary catheters come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They can be manufactured using the following materials:

  •      Rubber
  •      Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  •      Silicone

Reuse catheter: What is the purpose of urinary catheters?

Catheters are often required when a person is unable to empty their bladder. If the patient cannot accomplish this, urine can accumulate and cause kidney hypertension. The pressure can then lead to severe renal failure and even irreversible kidney damage. 

A catheter may be recommended by your doctor if you:

  • Have no control over when you urinate.
  • Experience urinary incontinence.
  • Have urinary retention.

What are the different types of urinary catheters?

Urinary catheters fall into three categories: indwelling, external, and short-term.

Indwelling urinary catheters

An indwelling catheter, also called a urethral, suprapubic, or Foley catheter, is secured in the bladder. This style is suitable for both short- and long-term applications. Typically, a nurse will introduce an indwelling catheter into the bladder via the urethra. A health care professional may also do this through a small hole in the belly for suprapubic catheters. 

External urinary catheters

An external or condom catheter attaches outside of the body. Doctors recommend this catheter for men who do not have urinary retention but have severe functional or mental disorders, such as dementia. This catheter has a condom-like structure that protects the penis head, which connects to a drainage bag via a tube. External catheters come in reusable and single-use varieties.

Intermittent urinary catheters

After surgery, a person may require a urinary catheter for a brief time until the bladder empties. Then, the patient should remove the short-term catheter. This is referred to as an “in-and-out” catheter by some health care practitioners.

Patients utilize the intermittent catheter independently or with the assistance of a caregiver at home. They can also do it through the urethra or a catheterization hole formed in the lower abdomen.

Should patients reuse urinary catheters?

Intermittent catheters are considered single-use only by the FDA. There have been attempts to produce reusable intermittent catheters and at-home sterilization procedures. However, there isn’t enough data to indicate that multiple-use intermittent catheters are as safe as single-use devices.

It is important to note that some catheter types (particularly hydrophilic kinds) should never be used more than once. The effectiveness of the slick, pre-lubricated surface of the hydrophilic catheter lessens after removing it, and reinsertion can result in friction.

On the other hand, patients can reuse some condom catheters. Since this type goes over the penis, patients can easily clean and reuse it without worry. However, doctors recommend replacing external catheters every 24 hours.

As for indwelling catheters, doctors recommend changing them between 2 and 12 weeks, depending on the situation. If the patient experiences irritation or shows signs of kidney stones, professionals can change the catheters more frequently.

Overall, patients should avoid washing and reusing catheters without the approval of a health care expert because improper cleaning practices increase the risk of bacterial infection. Doctors usually recommend using sterile, single-use, disposable catheters for safety and health reasons instead of a reuse catheter.

Catheter maintenance

Cleaning your reusable catheter every day is the best tip to follow if you plan on using it for a short while. Make sure you’re in a clean bathroom when performing this, and you should prevent the catheter from coming into contact with any surface, including the toilet, wall, or floor.

Take the following steps to keep the catheter sanitary:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Rinse the catheter with a 1:4 mix of white vinegar and water. Alternatively, immerse it in a hydrogen peroxide solution for 30 minutes. You can also use warm water and soap. The catheter does not need to be sterile; it only needs to be clean.
  • Rinse it once again with cold water.
  • To dry, drape the catheter over a piece of clean cloth.
  • Once the catheter is dry, place it in a new plastic bag.
  • When the catheter gets dry and brittle, discard it.

When leaving the house, you can carry separate plastic bags to store used catheters. Rinse the catheters before putting them in the bags if feasible. Once you get back home, clean them thoroughly using the techniques outlined above. This cleaning method is critical if you are using intermittent self-catheterization.

What are the dangers of a reuse catheter?

Disposable catheters frequently have distinguishing characteristics, such as a coude tip for easy insertion. This facilitates self-catheterization and accumulates tissue, blood, and other organic debris. Attempting to clear this residue entirely at home is almost impossible. If you reuse this type of catheter, you can run the risk of infection (or reinfection) with viruses, bacteria, and other germs left behind after initial use.

Reuse catheter: Infection of the urinary tract

One of the most severe and common hazards of reusing an intermittent catheter is the possible development of a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs can be frequently painful and inconvenient.

Bacteria can enter the body through the urethra and multiply in the urinary system in a UTI. They can also affect both adults and children and the lower and upper urinary tract, which is composed of the urethra and bladder and ureters and kidneys, respectively. While the infection cannot be passed from person to person, the germs that cause the UTI can. Sexual activity is typically not advised until the body has fully recovered from at UTI.

UTIs are common, however.  If left untreated, they can progress to more severe problems such as kidney infections, renal damage, and sepsis.

The following are common signs of a urinary tract infection:

  • Urge to urinate often
  • Urination causes a burning feeling
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine that is crimson or pink
  • Urine with blood in it
  • Fever
  • Backache in the lower back
  • Rectal or pelvic discomfort
  • Abdominal discomfort 
  • Chills 

Reuse catheter: Putting the catheter’s effectiveness at risk

When you reuse a disposable catheter, you may be jeopardizing its performance and efficacy. Single-use catheters aim to provide excellent one-time performance only. Rewashing or sterilizing the device at home can reduce the tubing’s integrity, dramatically increasing the risk of urethral damage.

Urine may also leak into the tissue surrounding the urethra due to urethral trauma. This can lead to the inability to urinate, abdominal discomfort, infections, inflammation, and edema.

Catheters: using them safely

Your doctor or nurse should give you step-by-step instructions on utilizing a catheter. Before inserting any form of an intermittent catheter, thoroughly read the manufacturer’s instructions. When self-catheterizing, you should also make sure to keep your body and surroundings clean and use an appropriate lubricant. 

Always contact your treating physician or nurse if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Temperatures over 101° F and other signs of fever or cold
  • Pain in the rib cage
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Difficulties inserting and withdrawing the catheter
  • Spilling urine between catheterizations
  • Rash or lesions on the skin
  • Bad odor from the urine
  • Penile ache

Aside from consulting your doctor or nurse for advice on reusing catheters, you can also reach out to a patient-centered healthcare provider like Better Health. They can give specialized and real-time support for your needs. Call 415-475-8444 or visit today.

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