Common questions and answers about urinary catheters

For people who need help emptying their bladder (urinary retention) or who experience accidental urine loss (incontinence), your doctor may recommend using a urinary catheter. Catheters are often used to manage bladder control in individuals with nerve injuries to the brain, spinal cord or bladder, those with multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, enlarged prostate and other conditions that affect normal bladder function.  


What kinds of urinary catheters are there?

There are many different kinds of urinary catheters; your doctor will help you to determine which one is right for you.

The main types of urinary catheters are:

Intermittent catheters – An individual or caregiver can insert an intermittent catheter at certain times throughout the day (as instructed by a doctor) to drain the bladder of urine; the catheter does not remain in the bladder.

Indwelling (Foley) catheters –  Indwelling catheters can remain in the bladder for longer periods of time and empty into a urine collection device. They have a small balloon at the insertion end, which after insertion is inflated with a small amount of water to hold the catheter in place within the bladder. Indwelling catheters can be kept insider the bladder for one month before being changed. A health care professional will insert and remove an indwelling catheter.

External catheters – Instead of being inserted through the urethra into the bladder to drain urine, external catheters are applied like a condom to the penis and connected to a drainage bag where urine is collected.

While these are the most common types of catheters, there are other types that your doctor may recommend based on your individual needs.


Are there certain urinary catheters that are just for women – or men?

Intermittent and indwelling catheters vary in size and length and can be used by both men and women. Women and children, who have shorter urethras than men, may prefer shorter-length catheters, which will help them to avoid unnecessary looping of the longer catheters. Insertion techniques will vary due to anatomical gender differences. (Note: coudé-tipped catheters are usually only used for men). With external catheters for men, the most common type is the condom. For women, there is another device available, called a female urethral insert, that acts as a plug to restrict urine flow (it’s not a catheter, but works as a stress incontinence prevention tool).


Can I learn to use a urinary catheter at home?

Your doctor or nurse may teach you how to use an intermittent catheter on your own. But with an indwelling catheter, your health care provider will need to insert and remove it. Condom catheters (for men) may also be used at home, depending on your health condition.


How often do I use an intermittent catheter each day?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), you’ll need to catheterize “at least every six hours and at bedtime.” Ultimately, your doctor will provide you with specific guidance on how often you need to catheterize.


How often do you change an indwelling catheter?

Indwelling catheters may be kept inside the bladder for one month before being changed. Usually, a doctor or health care professional will insert and remove an indwelling catheter.


Can I reuse intermittent catheters?

Currently, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration does not approve the repeated use of single-use catheters.  


I’ve heard that people who use urinary catheters are more prone to have UTIs, is that true?

People with certain types of catheters, such as indwelling (also called Foley catheters), have an increased risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI), especially if the catheter has been in place for a long period of time. There is also a lower incidence of urinary tract infections (UTI) with intermittent catheters when compared with other choices, such as indwelling catheters. Within the intermittent line of catheters, there is a lower incidence of UTIs with closed-system catheters in comparison to other intermittent catheters. Along with catheter choice, there are several steps you can take to reduce your chance of developing a UTI, such as making sure your hands are thoroughly clean before inserting the catheter or anytime you drain the urine. Also, cleaning the urethral opening daily can help reduce the risk of infection.


What if I have questions about how to use my urinary catheter?

If you have any questions or concerns about your urinary catheter, make sure to talk to your doctor or health care professional.


Does Medicare cover intermittent catheters?

Medicare allows for one catheter for each episode of catheterization, up to 200 intermittent catheters per month. Most private health insurance companies follow guidelines similar to those of Medicare. Please call Edgepark at 1-866-528-2142 for questions about health care coverage guidelines and catheters


Related articles:
Three reasons you should avoid reusing catheters
Clean intermittent self-catheterization for women
Clean intermittent self-catheterization for men