What is a Foley catheter?

Also known as indwelling catheters, Foley catheters are thin, sterile tubes inserted into the bladder to help drain urine. A small balloon at the tip of the catheter filled with sterile water keeps the catheter in place inside the bladder, preventing it from slipping out. A drainage bag attached to the other end of the Foley catheter that catches the urine that exits the bladder. 

Once full, this bag can be detaches from the catheter tube, allowing the user to dispose of urine. Some systems, referred to as “closed” systems, feature a valve at the bottom of the bag that opens when the bag has to be emptied. The bag can be strapped to the patient’s leg or hooked onto any surface space.  

As such, Foley catheters assist in the following scenarios and illnesses: 

  • Nerve-related bladder dysfunctions 
  • Obstruction of the urethra by anatomical conditions like prostate hypertrophy and prostate cancer
  • Urine output monitoring or collection of specimens for diagnostic purposes 

What makes a Foley catheter different from other catheters?

  • Also known as indwelling catheters, Foley catheters can be left in place for any length of time. Catheter insertion can be done through the urethra or a small abdominal incision. 
  • While they are effective, Foley catheters carry a greater risk of causing infections. Other catheters, like condom catheters, are also more comfortable to use compared to Foley catheters. External condom catheters require frequent changes, as they can fall off easily.
  • Critically ill or injured individuals experiencing trouble urinating frequently use Foley catheters. Due to complications, users must maintain and clean them regularly and correctly.

Before catheterization

Prior to the insertion of a Foley catheter, you’ll want to remember a couple of things: 

  • Keep the genital area clean and avoid using any harsh chemicals near the area. 
  • Switch to loose clothing that allows you to move freely prior to catheter insertion. 
  • The male urethra is longer than the female, which is why catheters for males are usually longer. On average, male catheters are 16 inches long.
  • Male patients receive catheter placement while in a supine position.
  • Female patients, receive catheterization by lying on their back in a frog-leg position.

The catheterization process

Prior to catheter insertion, a health care professional cleans the urethra and its surrounding area. The cleaning starts from the genital area and moves outward to the surrounding areas. Then, the health care professional follows these steps:

  • Catheterization begins with the lubrication of the Foley catheter with a water-soluble jelly. 
  • The nurse or doctor will then drape the genital area to provide privacy and clean the area of insertion and the surrounding skin
  • Male catheterization usually requires retracting the foreskin of the penis, while female catheterization usually includes the parting of the labia. 
  • The insertion occurs through the urethral opening.
  • The inflated balloon inside of the bladder keeps the Foley catheter in place. The inflation process is often painless and without any complications. Any urine present in the bladder should flow out of the catheter and into the drainage bag later on. 
  • Patients will often feel slight discomfort after the insertion. While normal, a health care professional should handle insertion if the discomfort becomes unbearable.
  • A lidocaine jelly called “UroJet” can aid with discomfort during catheter insertion. The jelly can also help with pain management.

Foley catheter removal 

Normally done by the patient’s health care team, a patient should not attempt to remove the catheter themselves unless they have received education on how to safely remove the catheter. This will be necessary if a catheter will be a long-term solution for the patient.

Removing a catheter correctly and safely is important to avoid any complications or infections. Before removing it, make sure to empty the urine bag first, then wash your hands thoroughly for the rest of the procedure. 

  • Wash your hands
  • Gather everything you need for the removal of the catheter. These items may include a syringe from your healthcare provider, a wastebasket, and a clean towel or washcloth. 
  • To begin the removal of the catheter, place the syringe tip into the balloon port of the catheter. The syringe should fit perfectly into the port with a firm push and twist motion. 
  • Make sure to wait for the water to empty out of the balloon. The process may need to be repeated several times, as the balloon’s size can vary.
  • Once you fully empty the balloon, gently pull out the catheter. 
  • Make sure to dispose of the catheter correctly. Using the towel or washcloth, clean up any stains made due to the removal of the catheter, if there are any.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up. 

Does catheterization hurt?

The process of catheterization can cause feelings of discomfort. The healthcare provider applies anesthetic gel to the catheter prior to the insertion to decrease discomfort. Having a catheter can also produce feelings of discomfort, but long-term catheters can get used to it after a while. 

Possible complications

Please contact your health care provider if you experience any of the following conditions: 

  • Presence of pink or red urine in the drainage bag from the urethra 
  • Bleeding from the urethra 
  • Increased lower abdominal pain 
  • Foul-smelling discharge coming from the urethra or genital area 
  • Redness or swelling in the genital area
  • Feelings of nausea
  • Bladder spasms, which are similar in sensation to stomach cramps
  • Symptoms of blockages, leakages, or damage to the urethra 
  • Sig ns of urinary tract infection, or UTI 

To decrease the chance of complications, urinary catheterization should be performed by health care professionals or a patients who have received the necessary training. Antibiotics can be used to treat UTIs, but should any difficulties occur, contact the health care provider for assistance.

Caring for a catheter

If you require a long term catheter, your healthcare provider will be providing you with guidelines on how to care and maintain it properly. These guidelines may include how to get new supplies for the catheter, how to prevent infections, and when you should contact a healthcare professional in case of complications. 

Should any Foley catheter-related complication occur, immediately consult your healthcare professional. You can also contact Better Health by calling 415-475-8444. We have experts who can assist you with any questions you may have about your catheter equipment. 

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