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Catheterization Q&A

Mary H. Wilde, RN, PhD, associate professor of nursing at the University of Rochester

A urinary catheter is a hollow, flexible tube used to drain fluid from the bladder. Urinary catheters come in many sizes; can be used by men, women and children; and are generally needed when someone is unable to empty his or her bladder. Most people require the use of catheters for a short period of time; however, those with a severe illness or injury may need to use urinary catheters for a much longer period of time.

Mary H. Wilde, RN, PhD, associate professor of nursing at the University of Rochester, has been researching the use of urinary catheters for years. She explains the different types of catheters and shares tips about how to stay healthy if you are using one.

Q: What are the types of urinary catheters?

A: There are two types of catheters: intermittent catheters and indwelling catheters.

Intermittent catheters are urinary catheters temporarily inserted into the bladder and removed once the bladder is empty. Indwelling catheters are ones placed inside the bladder, remain in place for a longer period of time and drain fluid into a bag outside the body.

Q: What are common reasons for needing a catheter?

A: Your doctor may recommend use of a catheter if you are not able to empty your bladder on your own or if you are not able to control when you urinate. Examples of reasons why either of these may occur include:

  • Injury to the nerves of the bladder.
  • Surgery on your bladder, prostate or genital area (short term after surgery).
  • Medical condition such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Spinal cord injury.
  • Blocked flow of urine due to an enlarged prostate.

Q: How can a person stay healthy using a catheter?

A: The key to staying healthy is to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Fluids can help flush bacteria from the bladder. Other tips include:

  • Limit your caffeine – drinking coffee can irritate the bladder.
  • Drink enough. How much you should drink depends on your weight. Ask your health care provider how much you should drink. Drink more fluids when it is hot or when you exercise.
  • Pay attention to the color of your urine. It should be light yellow all day long.
  • Ensure your diet consists of plenty of fiber to prevent constipation. The bowel lies close to the bladder, and pressure from a full bowel can result in obstruction in the flow of urine down the catheter.

Q: What problems can develop from the use of a catheter?

A: Problems can include:

  • Frequent or persistent urinary tract infections.
  • A blocked catheter.
  • A catheter that accidentally pulls out of the bladder.
  • Urine leakage.

Q: How can you help prevent problems with the catheter?

A: Keeping the catheter clean is important. For an indwelling catheter, wash the area where the catheter enters the body once a day. For either type of catheter wash your hands before and after you handle the catheter. If the catheter is cracked, get rid of it. Most importantly, stay aware of your body and how you feel. If you notice any changes, talk with your health care provider.

Q: What advice do you have for living with a catheter?

A: Prepare. Going out can sometimes be challenging so make certain you prepare beforehand. Think about where restrooms are located and if they have facilities with a shelf for you to lay out your supplies. There are Internet resources for finding these facilities or you can call ahead to ask.

Q: What are common reasons for needing a catheter?

A: Your doctor may recommend use of a catheter if you are not able to empty your bladder on your own or if you are not able to control when you urinate. Examples of reasons why either of these may occur include:

  • Injury to the nerves of the bladder.
  • Surgery on your bladder, prostate or genital area (short term after surgery).
  • Medical condition such as multiple sclerosis.
  • Spinal cord injury.
  • Blocked flow of urine due to an enlarged prostate.

Q: How can a person stay healthy using a catheter?

A: The key to staying healthy is to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Fluids can help flush bacteria from the bladder. Other tips include:

  • Limit your caffeine – drinking coffee can irritate the bladder.
  • Drink enough. How much you should drink depends on your weight. Ask your health care provider how much you should drink. Drink more fluids when it is hot or when you exercise.
  • Pay attention to the color of your urine. It should be light yellow all day long.
  • Ensure your diet consists of plenty of fiber to prevent constipation. The bowel lies close to the bladder, and pressure from a full bowel can result in obstruction in the flow of urine down the catheter.

Q: What problems can develop from the use of a catheter?

A: Problems can include:

  • Frequent or persistent urinary tract infections.
  • A blocked catheter.
  • A catheter that accidentally pulls out of the bladder.
  • Urine leakage.

Q: How can you help prevent problems with the catheter?

A: Keeping the catheter clean is important. For an indwelling catheter, wash the area where the catheter enters the body once a day. For either type of catheter wash your hands before and after you handle the catheter. If the catheter is cracked, get rid of it. Most importantly, stay aware of your body and how you feel. If you notice any changes, talk with your health care provider.

Q: What advice do you have for living with a catheter?

A: Prepare. Going out can sometimes be challenging so make certain you prepare beforehand. Think about where restrooms are located and if they have facilities with a shelf for you to lay out your supplies. There are Internet resources for finding these facilities or you can call ahead to ask.

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