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POSTED ON: April 14 2015
Posted by:Su-Lauren Wilson owner,CFO
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Picking the Right Type of Catheter

As others have written about extensively, it is important to understand the differences in catheters. If you are researching catheters, you are either preparing to use them for yourself, or you are a caregiver for someone who will need catheters. While it is extremely important to become educated on catheters, it is also important to talk with your doctor about proper care and cleanliness. Practicing "cathing" with a medical professional onsite can be helpful, as can practicing by yourself with a mirror or by "feel." You can also learn more about urinary catheter supplies from the medical supply store where you buy them.

Catheters are split into three categories, depending on your needs. Your catheter can be indwelling, where it remains inside your body for a determined period of time. If you are male, your catheter can be external, where it never enters the body. Or your catheter can be intermittent, where it is inserted into the body to drain the urine and then once that is completed, the catheter is removed. 

Your doctor or medical professional can help you pick the right style of catheter, and this is important, because not every catheter type may be for you. You will need to know a few things about your body that will be completely unique to you. 

Questions to ask before choosing a catheter:

  • Are you allergic to latex?
  • What is your catheter "French" size?
  • How long will you be cathing?
  • Do you have any physical impediments such as an enlarged prostate, curved urethra, or sagging bladder?

All of these questions need to be answered by your doctor before you start using an internal catheter, because there are many different styles available for different body shapes and types.

Indwelling Catheters

A typical indwelling catheter, or Foley catheter, will be made of either Latex or Silicone. Since these catheters stay in the body for days or weeks at a time, they can collect biofilm, which are layers of bacteria brought down from the bladder into the urine. Some Foley catheters now come with biofilm prevention, or antibacterial properties. This may or may not be the best solution for you, but it is available. All Foley catheters should be sterile and out of the package before insertion. Never reuse or reinsert a Foley catheter.

External Catheters

Men have the choice of wearing what is called a male external, or condom catheter

Like it sounds, the condom catheter is worn on the genitalia like a condom, except there is a drainage hole at the tip to expel urine. During the daytime, this tip is attached to a tube that runs down the thigh and attaches to a urinary leg bag. The urinary leg bag is strapped to the thigh and only has to be emptied when it's full.

At night, you attach a longer drainage tube to the tip of the catheter. This longer tube attaches to an overnight bag or bottle that hangs by the bed. This allows you the freedom to sleep peacefully without worrying about a urine leak.

You can read much more about condom catheters here.

Intermittent Catheters

If you need a catheter to empty your bladder because your bladder cannot empty itself, then you will want an intermittent catheter. These are also called "in-and-out" catheters. These catheters come sized for men (16 inches long), women (6 inches long), and children (6 inches and shorter). These catheters are made of silicone or latex rubber depending on the need. Most intermittent catheters for regular use are made of silicone. 

They are available pre-lubricated or dry but should always be individually wrapped and sterile. Never reuse a catheter. These catheters come in a wide variety: red rubber latex catheters are very firm and can bypass obstructions; coude catheters have a bent tip, which allows them to pass through difficult urethras; olive tip catheters have a small bulb on the tip to enlarge damaged or closed urethras; and straight catheters can be used for non-difficult urethras.

What Catheter Do I Need for My Medical Condition?

Only your doctor or other medical professional can tell you which catheter you can safely use, what size, and demonstrate proper application. Do not attempt to use a catheter without proper instruction, as you could seriously damage your urethra, bladder, skin, or give yourself a urinary tract infection (UTI), among other things. Only people who have medically diagnosed conditions should use catheters, and only your doctor can tell you what kind you need for your specific medical condition. 


SuLauren Wilson is the founder of Finnegan Medical Supply, an online medical supply store based in Little Rock, Ark. She blogs regularly on issues affecting the company’s patients. Although, she has many years of experience in the healthcare industry, she is not a licensed medical professional, and the content of her posts should not be considered medical advice.