Overview & Description
Urinary catheters are flexible tubes placed in the bladder to drain urine.
Catheters may be placed through the urethra or directly through the skin of the
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
The most common reason for urinary catheterization is to monitor the output of
urine. This may be needed during surgery or a hospital stay for severe illness.
For the long term, it is better to have people catheterize themselves when
needed, if possible. Short-term urinary catheterization has few risks or side
How is the procedure performed?
Catheters that are placed through the urethra have a smooth tapered tip and two
outlet ports. The larger port drains the urine, and the other is for inflating
the balloon that keeps the catheter from slipping out. Catheters are made of
several materials, which vary in slipperiness. Some catheters have the tip
curved upward, for use in men with large prostates. Other catheters have an
extra hole so they can be placed over a wire to guide placement in the bladder.
The genital area is first cleansed with a sterile solution. The catheter is
then lubricated and passed gently through the urethra into the bladder. Its
proper placement is indicated when urine is returned to the catheter. The
balloon is inflated with a small amount of fluid. The catheter is then taped or
strapped into place. When the person is in bed, a large bag is used to collect
the urine. If a person is walking around, bags that are smaller and easier to
use are strapped to the leg.
Sometimes it is better to go directly through the skin of the lower abdomen
into the bladder. This might be done when the urethra is damaged, infected, or
blocked by cancer. The catheter is placed with a needle and wire through the
skin, or a very small incision over the bladder is made. This might be
performed under local, regional, or general anesthesia.
The catheter is held in place with a balloon or by the shape of the catheter.
The catheter is often sewn into place on the skin, as well. This kind of tube
through the lower abdomen is more commonly used when people need long-term
catheterization and cannot catheterize themselves when necessary.
Home Care and Complications
What happens later at home?
Care should be taken to avoid pulling the catheter out accidentally. It is
important to be aware of the tubes and straps. Careful cleansing of the site
where the tube exits the body, either at the urethra or at the skin of the
abdomen, helps to prevent infection and irritation.
What are the potential complications after the procedure?
Catheterization for less than 3 to 4 days rarely causes problems. If a catheter
is left in longer than a week, bacteria are likely to grow in the bladder. In
these cases, antibiotics may be given when the catheter is removed to help
clear the infection.
Catheterization for years may result in skin erosions where the catheter exits.
Chronic inflammatory changes in the bladder, which rarely can induce a form of
cancer, and chronic urinary tract infections are also possible.