What is a urinary catheter?

A urinary catheter is a tube that is inserted to assist in emptying the bladder. The two main kinds of catheters are intermittent (or straight) catheters and Foley (or indwelling) catheters. Urinary catheters are used to treat urinary incontinence. Catheters are also sometimes used to measure urinary output and for certain medical tests.

Why might I have urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can occur for a number of reasons. Many individuals who are not otherwise incontinent may have stress incontinence in which a small amount of urine is released upon coughing, laughing or sneezing. Other individuals might suffer from functional incontinence, which is caused when an individual has a difficult time moving to reach the bathroom in time.

Two kinds of incontinence that are often treated with catheters are urge incontinence and overflow incontinence. Urge incontinence consists of a sudden urge to void followed by the immediate expulsion of urine. Overflow incontinence occurs when a constantly full bladder has exceeded capacity.

Some causes of incontinence come on suddenly. Temporary incontinence can be caused by urinary tract infections, weight gain, pregnancy, constipation, prostate infection, or can be due to being placed on temporary bed rest. Other causes of incontinence may be long lasting, such as incontinence that is the result of spinal injuries, bladder cancer, an enlarged prostate in men, a pelvic prolapse in women, or muscle or nerve damage that occur after pelvic radiation.

How is urinary incontinence treated?

Not all urinary incontinence is treated with catheters. Urinary incontinence can sometimes be treated with medication. For those with urge incontinence, anticholinergic medication can help calm an overactive bladder. In other cases, the antidepressant imipramine can help create the appropriate muscle relaxation and contraction of the bladder. Antibiotics can treat incontinence caused by urinary tract infections or cases of inflamed prostate. For women who have gone through menopause and have developed urinary incontinence, hormone replacement therapy can sometimes help.

For some individuals, it is possible to treat urinary incontinence by using bladder retraining. This technique involves setting a schedule for urination and gradually increasing the amount of time between scheduled bathroom visits until you are able to use the bathroom only once every few hours. Kegel exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles can also help reduce incontinence.

In other cases, urinary incontinence is treated using either an intermittent or a Foley catheter, which are tubes that help to drain urine from the bladder directly.

How do I use a urinary catheter?

Intermittent catheters should only be used for short intervals. After cleaning the area around the urethra, a new sterile catheter should be inserted. You will know it has been inserted far enough when urine begins to flow. Once urine begins to flow, do not insert the catheter in any further. Remove the catheter as soon as urine stops flowing and discard the catheter.

Indwelling or Foley catheters are placed for a longer period of time and changed intermittently to prevent infection.

What is the difference between an intermittent catheter and a Foley catheter?

An intermittent or straight catheter is inserted temporarily to drain urine and then immediately removed. Foley or indwelling catheters are placed for a longer period of time for those with more permanent urinary incontinence.

What causes catheter-associated urinary tract infections?

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections are caused when bacteria are introduced into the urinary tract by a non-sterile catheter. Individuals who use catheters have a significantly higher risk of urinary tract infection compared to those who do not use catheters.

How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection?

There are several symptoms you might notice if you have a urinary tract infection. You might experience burning upon urination or a more frequent urge to urinate. You might also experience lower abdominal pain or have a fever. Blood in the urine may also be a sign of a urinary tract infection.

How can I prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections?

To prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections you should never reuse catheters. Catheters should be inserted with clean hands into a sterilized area. The catheter should not be disconnected from the drain tube unless absolutely necessary, such as when emptying the bag. Keep the drain out of the way when emptying urinary catheter bags and don’t allow it to come into contact with anything. Do not use catheters for longer than necessary.

How do I treat a catheter-associated urinary tract infection?

A catheter-associated urinary tract infection can be treated with antibiotics. Your catheter will also need to be changed.

Will insurance cover my catheters?

Yes, insurance, including Medicare, will cover your catheters as long as you meet coverage criteria.

Can I reuse catheters?

No, you should never reuse catheters. The reuse of catheters is linked to an increased risk of infection.

How many catheters can I receive each month?

Insurance or Medicare will typically cover up to 200 intermittent catheters each month. The exact amount is determined by your doctor and insurance provider. For Foley catheters, you can typically receive two catheters each month.

How can I purchase catheters?

You can purchase different brands of catheters through a number of different catheter supply companies. These companies will discretely ship catheters to your door each month.

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