Learning About Urinary Catheter Care to Prevent Infection

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The urinary tract

What is a urinary catheter?

A urinary catheter is a flexible plastic tube used to drain urine from your bladder when you can't urinate on your own. The catheter allows urine to drain from the bladder into a bag.

Two types of drainage bags may be used with a urinary catheter.

  • A bedside bag is a large bag that you can hang on the side of your bed or on a chair. You can use it overnight or anytime you will be sitting or lying down for a long time.
  • A leg bag is a small bag that you can use during the day. It is usually attached to your thigh or calf and hidden under your clothes.

Having a urinary catheter increases your risk of getting a urinary tract infection. Germs may get on the catheter and cause an infection in your bladder or kidneys. The longer you have a catheter, the more likely it is that you will get an infection. You can help prevent this problem with good hygiene and careful handling of your catheter and drainage bags.

How can you help prevent infection?

Take care to be clean

  • Always wash your hands well before and after you handle your catheter.
  • Clean the skin around the catheter twice a day using soap and water. Dry with a clean towel afterward. You can shower with your catheter and drainage bag in place unless your doctor told you not to.
  • When you clean around the catheter, check the surrounding skin for signs of infection. Look for things like pus or irritated, swollen, red, or tender skin around the catheter.

Be careful with your drainage bag

  • Always keep the drainage bag below the level of your bladder. This will help keep urine from flowing back into your bladder.
  • Check often to see that urine is flowing through the catheter into the drainage bag.
  • Empty the drainage bag when it is half full. This will keep it from overflowing or backing up.
  • When you empty the drainage bag, do not let the tubing or drain spout touch anything.

Be careful with your catheter

  • Do not unhook the catheter from the drain tube. That could let germs get into the tube.
  • Make sure that the catheter tubing does not get twisted or kinked.
  • Do not tug or pull on the catheter. And make sure that the drainage bag does not drag or pull on the catheter.
  • Do not put powder or lotion on the skin around the catheter.
  • Talk with your doctor about your options for sexual intercourse while wearing a catheter.

How do you empty a urine drainage bag?


If your doctor has asked you to keep a record, write down the amount of urine in the bag before you empty it.

Wash your hands before and after you touch the bag.

  1. Remove the drain spout from its sleeve at the bottom of the drainage bag.
  2. Open the valve on the drain spout. Let the urine flow out into the toilet or a container. Be careful not to let the tubing or drain spout touch anything.
  3. After you empty the bag, wipe off any liquid on the end of the drain spout. Close the valve. Then put the drain spout back into its sleeve at the bottom of the collection bag.

How do you add a bedside bag to a leg bag?

Wash your hands before and after you handle the bags.

  1. Empty the leg bag attached to the catheter.
  2. Put a clean towel under the leg bag.
  3. Use an alcohol wipe to clean the tip of the bedside bag. Then connect the bedside bag to the leg bag.

How can you clean a bedside drainage bag?

Many people clean their bedside bag in the morning if they switch to a leg bag.

To clean a drainage bag:

  1. Remove the bedside bag from the leg bag.
  2. Fill the bag with 2 parts vinegar and 3 parts water. Let it stand for 20 minutes.
  3. Empty the bag, and let it air dry.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of a urinary infection. These may include:
    • Pain or burning when you urinate.
    • A frequent need to urinate without being able to pass much urine.
    • Pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
    • Blood in your urine.
    • A fever.
  • Your urine smells bad.
  • You see large blood clots in your urine.
  • No urine or very little urine is flowing into the bag for 4 or more hours.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • The area around the catheter becomes irritated, swollen, red, or tender, or there is pus draining from it.
  • Urine is leaking from the place where the catheter enters your body.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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