Catheter 101: Different Types of Catheters for Urinary Incontinence
Catheters are sometimes an option to help people dealing with daily incontinence manage their conditions.
In this article we’ll discuss the various types of catheters used to manage urinary incontinence, the situations in which they’d be used, and problems or issues a patient may encounter during use. Please read our ultimate catheter guide for in-depth how-tos and resources on catheter use.
What is a catheter?
A catheter is a flexible tube used to remove fluid from the body. Most catheters fall into two groups: Urinary catheters, which are used to manage urinary incontinence, and intravenous catheters, which are often used to administer fluids and medications or pull other fluids from the body (also known as an IV).
When talking about catheters and incontinence, urinary catheters are used. Urinary catheters help the bladder expel urine in a controlled manner, which is useful for many patients struggling with incontinence.
Why use a catheter?
Because catheters drain urine from the bladder, they prevent kidney damage (which can occur when bladders remain overly full). What’s more, they can help the user drain the bladder regularly and frequently, preventing involuntary loss of bladder control.
What are the types of urinary catheters?
There are four types of catheter products that can be used to manage urinary incontinence:
- intermittent catheters
- indwelling catheters
- suprapubic catheters
- condom catheters
Intermittent catheters are used for a process called clean intermittent catheterization (CIC). During CIC, a patient catheterizes themselves when they need to urinate (typically four or more times a day) by inserting the catheter into the urethra.
Who needs an intermittent catheter?
An intermittent catheter is most typically used for patients who have trouble emptying their bladder on their own, often due to nerve damage or other conditions. It is typically is the first choice when a patient needs a catheter due to minimal disruption to day-to-day quality of life, unless catheterization is needed during surgery, when an indwelling catheter is used.
What problems do people using intermittent catheters experience?
Some may find learning the process of self-catheterization to be challenging and uncomfortable. While there is a learning curve, it can be picked up fairly quickly until it feels like second nature. All patients considering using an intermittent catheter should learn self-catheterization from a licensed medical professional.
Some patients also experience urinary tract infections when using an intermittent catheter, because inserting a foreign object into the urethra increases risk of contaminating the urinary tract with bacteria. However, because CIC fully drains the bladder and removes residual urine (in which the bacteria would live), there is a lower risk of UTIs than with indwelling catheters.
Indwelling catheters (AKA Foley catheters)
Indwelling catheters, also called Foley catheters, are intended for long-term use. With an indwelling catheter, a thin tube inserted through the urethra drains urine into a bag. It is typically strapped around a leg underneath clothes so that the wearer can move about throughout the day, though it can also be hung at the side of a bed at night, or for bedridden patients.
Who needs an indwelling catheter?
Indwelling catheters are used during most surgeries, whether or not a patient experiences daily incontinence. They are also sometimes used as a long-term solution for people who experience urinary incontinence, keeping the bladder empty to prevent accidents.
What problems do people using intermittent catheters experience?
Risk of infection (both UTIs and infections at the insertion site) is high when using an indwelling catheter long-term, which is why indwelling catheters are typically viewed as a last-resort longterm solution. Both patients and medical professional can take additional steps to prevent Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTIs).
Some patients may also experience intermittent catheter leakage, which is a sign the catheter is blocked with debri or clotted blood. Patients should work with a medical professional to ensure these catheters are working properly and nothing is blocking the flow of urine.
A suprapubic catheter is implanted surgically through the abdomen, rather than through the urethra. A medical professional will need to replace this catheter at regular intervals (typically monthly). It works similarly to an indwelling catheter in that a tube drains urine into a bag, emptying the bladder.
Who needs a suprapubic catheter?
A suprabubic catheter is an option for patients who need a catheter long-term. For many patients it is more ideal than an indwelling catheter as a long-term solution, as the risk of infection is lower, it is more comfortable, and it can allow the patients to remain sexually active.
It may also be used for people who have experienced urethral trauma or gynecological operations, such as surgery for stress incontinence.
What problems do people using suprapubic catheters experience?
Like with all catheters, there is always a risk of leakage or infection. You should alert a medical professional if urine stops draining from the catheter, if you’re experiencing noticeable leaks, if the area around the catheter is visibly inflamed, or if you are experiencing abnormal discomfort and bleeding.
To use a condom catheter, there is no need for any insertion into the bladder, surgical or otherwise. Instead, a sheath similar to a condom fits over male genitalia, catching urine as it leaks and collecting it in a bag via tube.
Who needs a condom catheter?
Men who need a catheter to manage incontinence and don’t want to use other incontinence products, such as bladder pads or incontinence underwear.
What problems do people using condom catheters experience?
Condom catheters can sometimes slip or leak, and some men find it in comfortable to wear the catheter and accompanying leg bag. When choosing between a condom catheter and other incontinence products, it ends up being a matter of preference. While some men find condom catheters more discreet than adult diapers, other men prefer incontinence underwear to the constant worry of experience a catheter bag leak.
Manage daily incontinence with incontinence products
With the exception of condom catheters, catheterization is typically viewed as a last-resort treatment option for people dealing with urinary incontinence. Other treatment options, from exercise to surgery, can significantly improve many incontinence cases, and incontinence supplies like adult pull-ups and bladder pads are effective in managing daily incontinence leaks.