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Indwelling Catheters

Indwelling catheters can be used short-term or long-term.

Short-term: these are frequently inserted after an operation or if you are unable to pass urine due to obstruction.  They may also be used to introduce therapeutic drugs or to record bladder pressures.
Long-term:  These are only considered as a last resort.  They are used to manage intractable urinary incontinence, where a chronic debilitating illness restricts ability to use the toilet or commode, in some cases where there is neurological disease or spinal cord injury or you are unfit to undergo an operation.

You might need to have an indwelling catheter temporarily, after an operation, for example. However, generally an indwelling catheter generally stays in place for long periods of time. Sometimes people with significant bladder problems opt for an indwelling catheter after discussion with their healthcare professional agreeing that it is the best way to manage the problem, in which case you may have an indwelling catheter for a longer period of time / the rest of your life.

How is an indwelling catheter inserted? Will I need an operation?

Your healthcare professional will insert a urethral catheter for you. It is inserted without the need for an operation. It is inserted into your bladder through your urethra which is a little opening above the vagina in women and through the penis in men. It is not usually a painful procedure but can be a little uncomfortable – a local anaesthetic gel is generally used to minimise any discomfort. Once inserted, indwelling catheters are held in place by inflating a small balloon at the tip of the catheter in the bladder with sterile water, either already in a pre-filled chamber within the catheter or by using a syringe, so it can’t fall out of the bladder.

How often does a catheter need changing?

Indwelling catheters will need changing on a regular basis (around 4-12 week intervals depending on the type of catheter inserted). Your healthcare professional can change the catheter in your home, or in their surgery or urology department. You, or a member of your family, may also be taught how to change it at home. You must not try to remove your catheter without medical advice.

What happens to the urine?

There are two choices when it comes to draining the urine from your indwelling catheter. You can use a catheter valve or a drainage bag. If you use a valve, urine will be stored in your bladder and you can empty it through the catheter straight into a toilet at regular intervals throughout the day. The other option is to allow the urine to flow freely, through the catheter and into a drainage bag which can be secured to your leg, abdomen or kept on a stand by your bed. Your health professional will advise you on the best method to suit your needs.

Website resource

The DIPEx Charity has just launched a new section of its unique and award winning website www.healthtalkonline.org Researchers interviewed 36 people across the UK about their experiences of living with a catheter.  People were recruited with the help of consultants, GPs, an advisory panel and support groups such as the Bladder and Bowel Community.