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A urinary catheter is a flexible plastic tube used to drain urine from the bladder when a person cannot urinate. The catheter is placed into the bladder by inserting it through the urethra. The urethra is the opening that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
When the catheter is in the bladder, a small balloon is used to keep the catheter in place. The catheter lets urine drain from the bladder into a collection bag. Urinary catheters can be used in both men and women. A catheter that stays in place for a longer period of time is called an indwelling catheter.
A catheter may be needed because of certain medical conditions. These include an enlarged prostate or problems controlling urine. It may be used after surgery on the pelvis or urinary tract. Urinary catheters are also used when the lower part of the body is paralyzed.
When helping a loved one with a catheter, try to be relaxed. Caring for a catheter can be embarrassing for both of you. If you are calm and don't seem embarrassed, the person may feel more comfortable.
Wear disposable gloves when handling someone's catheter. Make sure to follow all of the instructions the doctor has given. And always wash your hands before and after you're done.
Here are some other things to remember when caring for someone's catheter:
The urine collection bag needs to be emptied regularly. It is best to empty the bag when it's about half full or at bedtime. If the doctor has asked you to measure the amount of urine, do that before you empty the urine into the toilet.
When you are ready to empty the bag, follow these steps:
After the catheter is taken out, the person may have trouble urinating. If this happens, try helping them sit in 8 to 10 centimetres (3 to 4 inches) of warm water (sitz bath). If the urge to urinate comes during the sitz bath, it may be easier for them to urinate while still in the bath.
Some burning may happen the first few times the person urinates. If the burning lasts longer, it may be a sign of an infection.
If the catheter causes irritation or a rash, wearing loose, cotton underwear may help.
Watch closely for changes in the person's health. Be sure to contact their doctor if you notice any problems or if they are unable to urinate at all.
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Current as of: December 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
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