A caregiver’s guide to catheters becomes important for patients who use long term urinary catheters usually require special attention and care. Since they have a high risk of getting urinary tract infections (UTIs), catheterized patients may need an attentive caregiver or healthcare professional to prevent complications. Consider this for reference.

What is a urinary catheter, and how does it work?

A urinary catheter is a device used in patients who cannot urinate by themselves or who cannot control their urine. A urinary catheter is vital for patients with various medical conditions, including urinary retention, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostate enlargement, spinal cord or nerve damage.

A caregiver’s guide to catheters includes learning about the process of inserting a urinary catheter in a patient is called urinary catheterization. During this procedure, a doctor or nurse drains the bladder by inserting an indwelling, flexible tubing into the bladder through the urethra. 

The catheter tubing allows urine to flow into an attached drainage bag. This is essential in preventing a build-up of urine and creating pressure in the kidneys. Depending on the indication for the urinary catheter, it may be temporarily or permanently required for the patient.

Caregiver’s guide to catheters: Caring for patients with urinary catheters

Long-term use of urinary catheters increases the risk of contracting urinary tract infections (UTI)s. To avoid possible complications, caregivers need to perform daily catheter care and practice good hand hygiene. As a caregiver’s guide to catheters, care providers should observe the following precautionary measures:

  • Keep a record of the patient’s water intake and urine output
  • Maintain the drainage bag beneath the bladder level without touching the floor
  • Make sure the patient well-hydrated
  • Maintain genital hygiene for the patient
  • Ensure that there are no impediments or leakages in the catheter tubing
  • Wash hands properly with water and soap before and after caring for the patient and catheter
  • Changing the urinary catheter as indicated by the product manufacturer 

Caregiver’s guide to catheters: Cleaning the genital area

Cleaning the genital areas with mild soap and water is important in lowering bacteria build-up. 

Prior to cleaning the genital area, it is important to clean your hand thoroughly with warm water and soap. As a caregiver’s guide to catheters with male patients, you can clean the genitals by retracting the foreskin of the penis and cleaning away from the tip of the organ. When caring for female patients, you separate the labia and always clean the genitals from front to back. After cleansing gently, always dry the genitals using a clean cloth.. 

Cleaning the catheter

After gathering supplies and washing your hands:

  • Clean the device is to gently remove the old tape. 
  • Hold the catheter firmly at the point where it enters the urethra so that it will not fall out.
  • Proceed to clean the catheter using a washcloth with water and soap from the same point of the tubing, slowly making your way down and away from the body. 
  • Rinse the tool and dry it using a different cloth pad. 
  • Replace the old tape with a new one to secure the catheter in place.

Changing the drainage bag

A drainage bag is used to collect urine. The caregiver’s guide to catheters includes being responsible for changing the collection bag as recommended by the product manufacturer. First, empty the urine collection bag. Wash your hands and gather the supplies. To change the drainage bag, place a sterilized cloth or gauze beneath the connection point between the urinary catheter and the tubing of the drainage bag. Hold the urinary catheter and collection bag tubing securely right above the point where they connect. Pull the tubing away from the catheter and carefully detach the bag. 

Wipe the tip of the catheter and connector using a separate alcohol pad. Connect the new tubing and bag to the urinary catheter and dispose of the old drainage bag. Check the urinary catheter,  tubing and drainage bag to make sure that there are no kinks or twists. 

For patients who permanently require the use of a urinary catheter, the bag should be removed and replaced at least once every two months. Always refer to the manufacturer instructions regarding the frequency of changes.

Common problems

Familiarizing yourself with the common problems that patients with a urinary catheter may experience will help you stay informed and learn when to seek professional help. If you notice any of these signs, don’t hesitate to consult your loved one’s health care provider. 

Caregiver’s guide to catheters: Leakage

Bladder spasms may cause leaks around the urinary catheter. As a caregiver’s guide to catheters, make sure to check the tubing and bag to see if the catheter is still draining. Put a cloth or pad in place to absorb leakage and inform the healthcare provider. If the patient experiences pain and observes no urine in the tubing or bag, the tubing might be clogged. 

If you observe no drainage after 4 hours, check the following:

  • Did the patient drink at least 8-10 glasses of fluid in the last 24 hours?
  • Is the tubing obstructed (kinked)?
  • Did the patient sit or lie on the tubing or catheter?
  • Is the catheter properly attached to the bag?
  • Is the drainage bag beneath the level of the bladder?

You may also assist the patient in changing positions or moving around to help the catheter start draining again. If the catheter still fails to drain, contact your loved one’s health care provider for a proper assessment of the situation. 

Cleaning the catheter Tension in the catheter

To properly size the catheter tubing, you may ask assistance from a nurse. Keep the catheter in place by anchoring the tubing to the inside of the leg with a catheter stabilization device sometimes referred to as “StatLock” (an adhesive that allows you to hold the catheter in place called). Always remember to use the extension tubing with a leg bag to keep the pouch steady on the calf and prevent tension on the catheter. You may also cut the extension tubing to fit the length of the patient’s leg. 

Be sure to keep a large loop in the catheter tubing from the point where it exits the body to the extension tubing to prevent tugging, tension, or accidentally pulling out the catheter.


Having a urinary catheter in place can increase the likelihood of a urinary tract infection. A health care professional may decide to prescribe antibiotics if the patient starts to show symptoms of infection such as fever, chills, confusion, or abdominal pain occur. If you observe any of the symptoms mentioned above, notify the patient’s health care provider immediately.

It is advisable to drink plenty of fluids to help flush the kidneys and bladder and reduce the risk of infections. 

Caregiver’s guide to catheters: Better user care

  • Call your loved one’s healthcare provider if the catheter comes out.
  • Never attempt to replace it yourself unless you are a certified and experienced caregiver.
  • If you suspect signs of infection such as fever, chills, cloudy or foul smelling urine, blood in urine, pain or pressure in lower back or abdomen, vomiting,  change in mental status, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Let the patient drink lots of fluids.
  • If the patient experiences pain, makes less urine than usual, or fails to drain urine in the bag, consult your family’s healthcare provider.

If you need more information about a caregiver’s guide to catheters and the proper care practices for catheterized patients, feel free to contact the experts at Better Health. Visit https://joinbetter.com/ or call 415-475-8444 today.

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