An indwelling bladder catheter is a thin, hollow tube inserted into your urethra and bladder. The catheter stays in the bladder to drain urine into a collecting bag.
You may have a bladder catheter if you cannot empty your bladder normally. For example, the bladder may not drain normally because of:
Swelling or pain after surgery
A medicine you are taking that affects the nerves and muscles of the bladder
Blockage of the bladder by an enlarged prostate gland, a stone, or a tumor
A disease or injury that affects the nerves and muscles of the bladder
You might need a catheter if you cannot control your urine (incontinence). If contact with uncontrolled urine has caused breakdown in the skin, use of a catheter can help prevent more skin irritation.
You may also need a catheter if your have blood in your urine or your healthcare provider needs to know how much you urinate when you are very sick.
The most common type of indwelling catheter is called a Foley catheter. It is a soft tube with a balloon at one end and a drainage outlet at the other end. The balloon end is inserted into the bladder and the balloon is inflated with sterile water to keep the catheter from slipping out of the bladder.
How do I care for an indwelling catheter?
When you have an indwelling catheter, you or someone caring for you needs to:
Make sure urine is flowing into the catheter.
Check for signs of skin irritation or infection.
Make sure that the urine collection bag is always below the level of the bladder.
The steps for good catheter care are:
Check the tubing to make sure it is in good condition and does not have any kinks.
Keep the collection bag below the level of your bladder when you sit, lay down, or walk. This will help prevent an infection. Bacteria can get into your urine after it passes through the catheter and into the bag. Keeping the bag lower that your bladder prevents urine and bacteria from flowing back into your bladder.
If the bag is attached to the thigh, check that the straps are not too tight or irritating.
Inspect the area where the catheter goes into the body (the urethra) to look for redness, raw areas, swelling, cracks in the skin, or drainage.
Gently clean all around the area where the catheter enters the body. Also clean the top several inches of the catheter. Use the antibacterial soap or solution recommended by your healthcare provider.
Contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:
Too little urine is being collected. Normally adults make 1 to 2 quarts (or liters) of clear, yellow urine each day.
The catheter does not seem to be working right.
You see signs of irritation or infection of the skin.
Urine is leaking around the catheter or the catheter is accidentally pulled out.
If the amount of urine draining into the bag is less than normal, there are several possible reasons, including:
You are drinking less fluid.
Your drainage system is blocked.
You are not correctly measuring the amount of urine collected in the bag.
Your kidneys are not functioning properly.
What are the complications of indwelling catheters?
The area where the catheter enters the body may get irritated and raw. It may get infected. Indwelling catheters can cause urinary tract infections.
These instructions are intended to support the instructions from your healthcare provider and should not be used in place of those instructions. Ask your healthcare provider what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-08-25 Last reviewed: 2014-08-25
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Shbeeb A, Young JL, Hart SA, Hart JC, Gelman J. (2014). Lock-out valve to decrease catheter-associated urinary tract infections. Adv Urol. 2014;2014:765756.
Zhengyong Y, Changxiao H, Shibing Y, Caiwen W. (2014). Randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of bladder training before removing the indwelling urinary catheter in patients with acute urinary retention associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia. Scand J Urol. 2014 Aug;48(4):400-4.