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Urinary Catheter

What is a Urinary Catheter?

A catheter is a flexible hollow tube used to drain urine from the bladder. The catheter is inserted through the urethra (the opening which is situated at the end of the penis or just above the vagina) or through a hole made in the abdomen (suprapubic catheter). The catheter is then guided into the bladder to allow urine to flow through it and into a drainage bag which will be attached to your leg. Some people may have a valve at the end of their catheter instead of a drainage bag.

Most common reasons for catheterisation:

  • Urinary retention - this is the inability to pass urine
  • To promote and assist with wound healing if there is a wound in the localised area
  • Patients undergoing surgery on the urinary tract
  • To maintain a continuous flow of urine for patients who have difficulties passing urine as a result of neurological disorders that cause paralysis or loss of sensation
  • For the patients who require prolonged immobilisation, for example unstable spinal injuries or surgery
  • To monitor urinary output in critically ill patients
  • For patient comfort at end of life

What should I do if I have pain or discomfort?

When a catheter is first inserted it is not uncommon to experience mild, lower abdominal pain or tummy pain but this should pass. Check that your urinary drainage bag is not pulling on your catheter and that it is adequately supported. If the pain continues contact your nurse for advice.

How to look after a catheter

  • Ensure that the catheter is secured on to the leg with a stat lock device to help prevent trauma.
  • Empty the leg bag when it is two thirds full.

If you have a valve attached to your catheter instead of a leg bag, you should open the valve to empty your bladder:

  • When you feel that your bladder is full
  • Before going to bed
  • First thing in the morning
  • During the night if necessary
  • At least every 3-4 hours during the day
  • Before opening your bowels

You should replace the leg bag/valve once weekly - do not disconnect the leg bag at any other time even if you are bathing or showering.

Attach a night bag to the leg bag or valve at night to prevent the bag having to be emptied over night. Always remember to open the valve from your leg bag or catheter valve when you attach the overnight bag.

Close the leg bag or catheter valve in the morning when you remove the night bag.

Night bags can be emptied into the toilet and then double wrapped in newspaper or put into a plastic bag and disposed of in your household waste bin.

How to reduce the risk of getting an infection

  • Wash your hands before and after touching your catheter.
  • Wash the skin where the catheter enters the body with mild soap and water twice daily.
  • Men should wash carefully under the foreskin (unless you have been circumcised). Dry the area thoroughly and ensure the foreskin is replaced over the end of the penis.
  • Women should always wash the genital area from front to back to prevent contamination from the back passage. Dry the area thoroughly.
  • Avoid the use of talc, antiseptic, bubble bath or bath salts and creams as these can cause irritation.

What should I do if my catheter is not draining or is leaking?

  • Check the drainage bag is below the level of the bladder.
  • Make sure the tubing is not twisted, kinked or restricted by tight clothing.
  • Make sure the catheter is not pulled tight or stretched as this may restrict the flow of urine.
  • Check the drainage bag is connected correctly. Make sure that the securing device that secures the bag to your leg is positioned behind the leg bag tube.
  • Ensure the leg bag is not full.
  • Constipation can prevent the flow of urine. Ask your nurse about a healthy diet to avoid constipation.
  • Change your position and walk around if possible.

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital | T: 0121 685 4000 |