A urinary catheter is a soft tube that is usually placed through the urethra (water-pipe) into the bladder to provide drainage of urine when normal bladder function is impaired. An indwelling catheter (a catheter that stays in the bladder) drains either into a bag or via a tap.

Why might I need a catheter?

  1. Urinary retention is an inability to pass urine – it can occur suddenly or gradually over a long period of time. A catheter is usually only necessary until you have received further treatment for the problem.
  2. Uninary incontinence (sudden involuntary release of urine) – A catheter is put in only after a full continence assessment has been made, and all other alternatives to catheterisation have been tried and found to be unsuccessful.
  3. In severe illness to provide comfort and to allow measurement of urine output.

Other reasons that you might need a catheter in while in hospital or visiting as an outpatient:

  1. Bladder drainage after surgery – urology surgery or after other major operations.
  2. Bladder drainage following pelvic trauma after an accident.
  3. Bladder treatments – some treatments require a brief insertion of a catheter in order to deliver medication directly into the bladder.
  4. Bladder investigations: such as some x-ray examinations.

If I need a catheter, who will put it in?

A health care professional. Although it is a simple procedure this kind of catheter should only be inserted into the bladder or removed by a healthcare professional. In some circumstances a catheter is initially put in by your GP or district nurse. However, if investigations and expert urological advice are needed you GP will arrange for you to come to hospital.

Changing catheters

If it is necessary to keep your catheter in for some time it will be changed by your district nurse, normally every 10 – 12 weeks, although sometimes more frequent changes are required.

Alternative methods of bladder catheter drainage

  1. Supra-pubic catheter (placed in the lower abdomen above the pubic bone). This may be suggested if you need to have long-term catheterisation. It is more comfortable and avoids trauma to the urethra (water-pipe) that can occur if a urethral catheter is in place for a long time. If this option is recommended you will need to have it put in in hospital under a general anaesthetic. Supra pubic catheters are usually changed by the district nurse every 10 -12 weeks. Occasionally they are inserted temporally at the time of prostate or other pelvic procedures.
  2. If you are unable to empty your bladder properly Intermittent self catheterisation may be suggested to you as a means of draining your bladder instead of an indwelling catheter. It involves passing a catheter into the bladder yourself or with the help of your carer, waiting for the urine to drain and removing the catheter. If this is the option for you, one of our specialist nurses will teach you the technique and provide on-going support until you are confident.

Catheterisation is only recommended when absolutely necessary and after a full assessment. Whether you need one temporarily or permanently, your healthcare professional will show you how to look after your catheter and provide on-going support.