As it can bring changes to your daily routine, using a urinary catheter might be a challenge, but being prepared can help you become comfortable as soon as possible. In fact, some catheter users find the adjustment period quite simple with practice, with the right resources, supplies, and support. In this article, you will find helpful tips for living with a catheter and preventing potential complications that are associated with urinary catheter use.

Living with a catheter

A urinary catheter is a soft hollow tube that can drain fluid from your bladder. Your health care provider may recommend catheter use if you have:

  • Urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control or involuntary leakage of urine) 
  • Urinary retention (inability to completely or partially empty the bladder)
  • A blocked flow of urine due to an enlarged prostate, kidney or bladder stone, or blood clots in the urine
  • Other medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and spinal cord injury

Choosing the right urinary catheter

If you’re new to catheterization, it is essential to discuss which catheter is best suited for you with your healthcare provider. The type and length of use  may depend on your medical condition and lifestyle needs. Many people prefer touch-free catheters for their convenience. Most importantly, users can easily insert no-touch catheters without directly touching them, minimizing the risk of contamination.

Here are the three different types of catheters and what you can expect when using them:

Intermittent urinary catheters (short-term catheters)

If you can perform self-catheterization or have a caregiver who can help you, your doctor may prescribe an intermittent catheter. Since this method does not require a drainage bag or a leg bag like other catheter options, it can give you more independence and privacy. 

You may need to insert this thin, flexible tube at regular intervals several times a day, typically every four to six hours and right before bedtime. Once inserted, urine will flow through the catheter and drain out. When using this type of catheter, it is essential to have a toilet or a receptacle to collect the urine as there is no collection bag attached to the catheter. 

Before performing self-catheterization, there are several steps you must follow in order to avoid infection. It is not a sterile procedure but a “clean” procedure. Your doctor or nurse will show you how to perform this procedure. It may take some time to learn, but practice makes the process easier.

Indwelling urinary catheters (urethral or suprapubic catheters)

Also known as Foley catheters, these are similar to intermittent catheters but remain in place for days or weeks, which raises the risk of infection.

This method may require you to empty, clean, or replace the drainage bags at certain times of the day to avoid back-ups, leakages, and unpleasant smells. Some patients prefer using a valve for draining as it can be more comfortable.

You can use a smaller bag that straps around your thigh during the day and a larger bag at night, so you don’t have to get up and empty it often. It’s also crucial that you hang the night bag on the side of the bed and ensure it’s below your bladder. When you take a shower, you can hang it on the rail in the bathroom. You can also put a cap on the end of the drainage bag tubing to prevent contamination.

External urinary catheters (condom catheters)

This is a condom-like device that fits over the penis. In general, doctors recommend an external catheter for males with urinary incontinence. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a protective skin barrier you can apply before attaching the device.

To help the wafer stick better to your skin, you may need to trim the hair around the rectum when using this. Additionally, you might want to avoid shaving the pubic area because the subsequent regrowth can cause irritation. 

Dealing with infections while living with a catheter

The use of long-term urinary catheters can increase your risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs). Other possible complications of living with a catheter include:

  • Urethral injury 
  • Allergic reaction to some material used in the catheter, such as latex
  • Kidney damage (usually only with long-term, indwelling catheters)

You can reduce these risks by:

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle living with a catheter

There are many ways to help decrease your chances of complications associated with urinary catheter use. These include some hygiene, diet and lifestyle tips.

Increasing your fluid intake

Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, can help flush out bacteria from your bladder. Some catheter users even opt for large leg bags so they can drink as much as they need throughout the day. Additionally, you might consider limiting your intake of the following to avoid bladder irritation:

  • Alcohol
  • Acidic juice
  • Caffeine

Avoiding constipation

Constipation can place direct pressure on your bladder, resulting in obstruction in urine flow down the catheter. To prevent this, consuming a healthy amount of fiber is important. Examples of high fiber food are:

  • Whole grains
  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetables

Practicing good hygiene

Apart from choosing no-touch catheters, maintaining good hygiene can further reduce the risk of infection. The best ways to do this include:

  • Cleaning your catheter tube regularly (if it is a reusable catheter) 
  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before and after touching your catheter equipment
  • Keeping the area around the catheter entrance clean by washing it with mild soap and warm water twice per day

Learning the signs of infections and blockages

If you ‘are experiencing a burning sensation when peeing, there is a chance you may already have a catheter-associated urinary tract infection. Other signs of infection can include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Cloudy urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Fowl smelling urine
  • Fever 

In addition, various factors can be a symptom of catheter blockages or obstructions. You may pay attention to these warning signs:

  • No urine drains into the bag
  • Autonomic dysreflexia (sudden onset of excessively high blood pressure)
  • Feeling of pressure in the bladder

You should contact your doctor right away if you’re experiencing symptoms of an infection or blockage to prevent further complications.

Traveling and activities living with a catheter

With a urinary catheter, you can still carry out most of your regular activities. Your doctor let you know when it is safe to resume activities such as working, exercising and traveling.

Packing spare equipment

If your catheter breaks, it can completely disrupt your plans for the day. It is important to be prepared and ensure you always have a spare catheter. You can also make a list of all catheter supplies you need, especially if you’re planning a long trip. Some examples of things you might want to bring include:

  • Extra drainage bags
  • Disposable gloves
  • A bottle of water to stay hydrated
  • Paper towels, tissues, or wet wipes
  • A hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol
  • Plastic bag to collect any waste 

Carrying a catheter discreetly

There’s no shame in using a catheter outside your home. But, if you want to carry your catheter discreetly, it is possible. Many users living with a catheter prefer hiding their catheters in their pockets, while others tuck them into the waistband of their pants.

Engaging in sexual activity

Some people are also concerned about the effect living with a catheter may have on their sex life. Generally, you can still have sex as usual, however, it is important to consult your physician first. You might also consider emptying your bladder before sexual intercourse to avoid incontinence as well as shortly afterward to flush out any bacteria.

Join living with a catheter support groups

In addition to following best practices for living with a catheter, attending a support group can help in coping with the situation. Other catheter users can provide you with practical information, resources, and product recommendations you discuss with your doctor.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions

Get all the information and support you need from health care professionals. For expert product recommendations, advice, and more, you can visit or call 415-475-8444.

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