What is intermittent catheterization?

Intermittent Catheterization
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Using a straight catheter for self-catheterization (female): Overview

Self-catheterization is a way to completely empty your bladder when you need to. You put a thin tube called a catheter into your bladder. This lets the urine flow out.

You may use a catheter if you have nerve damage, a problem with your urinary tract, or diseases that weaken your bladder muscles. Emptying your bladder regularly can prevent urine leaks during the day. It can also prevent kidney damage from blocked urine or infections.

Some urinary catheters are left in the bladder for as long as needed. But an intermittent, or straight, urinary catheter is taken out right after it is used. Straight catheters come in different lengths and types. Some types are used one time only. Others can be cleaned and reused. Your doctor or nurse will let you know what type you will need and where to get supplies.

Replace the catheter as instructed or before it wears out. Disposable catheters can be thrown away after each use.

You can empty your bladder every 4 to 6 hours, or as your doctor recommends. It takes practice to learn how to place the catheter. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it should not cause pain. If your doctor asks you to measure your urine, you can catch it in a container that is given to you. Note the amount of urine, the date, and the time.

It's very important to be clean when you use the catheter. This helps prevent infection. Keep your hands, the catheter, and the pubic area around your urethra clean. (When you urinate, the urethra carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The urethra is just above the opening to the vagina.)

Prepare to insert the catheter

Bathroom sink area, showing supplies of hand soap, catheter, lubricating jelly, and mirror.
  1. Note signs that you may need to empty your bladder. These include swelling in your belly, a feeling of fullness, sweating, chills, or a headache. Try to urinate first, if you can, before you use the catheter.
  2. Gather the supplies you need to insert the catheter. You will need:
    The catheter.
    A mirror if you want to use one.
    A container to hold the urine. (If you empty the urine right into the toilet, you won’t need the container.)
    Lubricating jelly, such as K-Y Jelly, that dissolves in water. Don’t use a petroleum jelly such as Vaseline.
  3. You may want to use a clean washcloth or towel, and a bag or plastic tub to hold the supplies.
  4. Wash and dry your hands.

What is self-catheterization?

Self-catheterization is a way to regularly empty your bladder. You insert a catheter through the urethra into the bladder. The catheter is not permanent.

Catheterization Position for Women

A catheterization position for women

This is one position that can be used for intermittent catheterization. A caregiver might have you lie on your back.

Using a straight catheter for self-catheterization (male): When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These may include:
    • Pain or burning when you urinate.
    • A frequent need to urinate without being able to pass much urine.
    • Pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
    • Blood or pus in your urine.
    • A fever.
  • Your urine smells bad.
  • You can't pass any urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Insert the catheter

Side view of female anatomy, showing the insertion of the catheter.
  1. Gently insert the catheter into the urethra opening until urine begins to flow out. (You may want to use a mirror to see better.) Then insert it about 1 inch more.
  2. Let the urine drain into the container or the toilet.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.