You will use a catheter (tube) to drain urine from your bladder. You may need a catheter because you have urinary incontinence (leakage), urinary retention (not being able to urinate), surgery that made a catheter necessary, or another health problem.
What to Expect at Home
Urine will drain through your catheter into the toilet or a special container. Your doctor will show you how to use your catheter. After some practice, it will get easier.
Sometimes family members, a school nurse, or others may be able to help you use your catheter.
Your doctor will give you a prescription for the right catheter for you. There are different types and sizes. You can buy catheters at medical supply stores. You will also need small plastic bags and a gel such as K-Y jelly or Surgilube. Do NOT use Vaseline (petroleum jelly).
Ask your doctor how often you should empty your bladder with your catheter. Usually it is 3 to 6 times a day. Always try to empty your bladder first thing in the morning and when you go to bed at night. You can empty your bladder while sitting on a toilet. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to do this correctly.
Using Your Catheter
Follow these steps to insert your catheter:
Wash your hands well with soap and water.
You may use disposable gloves, if you prefer not to use your bare hands. The gloves do not need to be sterile, just clean.
Gently pull the labia open, and find the urinary opening. You can use a mirror to help you at first.
Wash your labia 3 times, using a fresh antiseptic towelette or baby wipe each time. Or, you may use cotton balls with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry if you use soap and water. Wash the labia from front to back, up and down the middle, and on both sides.
Get your container ready, or sit on the toilet.
Apply the K-Y Jelly or other gel to the tip and top 2 inches of the catheter. (Some catheters come with gel already on them.)
Gently slide the catheter up into your urethra until urine starts to flow. Do not force the catheter. Start over if it is not going in well. Try to relax and breathe deeply.
Let the urine flow into the toilet or container. Bear down 1 or 2 times to empty all the urine from your bladder.
When urine stops flowing, slowly remove the catheter. Pinch the end closed to avoid getting wet.
Wipe around your urinary opening and labia again with a towelette, baby wipe, or cotton ball.
If you are using a container to collect urine, empty it into the toilet. Always close the toilet lid before flushing to prevent germs from spreading.
Wash your hands with soap and water.
Cleaning Your Catheter
Clean your catheter every day. Always make sure you are in a clean bathroom. Do NOT let the catheter touch any of the bathroom surfaces (such as the toilet, wall, and floor).
Follow these steps:
Wash your hands well.
Rinse out the catheter with a solution of 1 part white vinegar and 4 parts water. Or, you can soak it in hydrogen peroxide for 30 minutes. You can also use warm water and soap. The catheter does not need to be sterile, just clean.
Rinse it again with cold water.
Hang the catheter over a towel to dry.
When it is dry, store the catheter in a new plastic bag.
Throw away the catheter when it becomes dry and brittle. Some kinds of catheters are meant to be used only once.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor or nurse if:
You are having trouble inserting or cleaning your catheter.
You are leaking urine.
You have a skin rash or sores.
You notice a smell.
You have pain in your vagina or bladder.
You have signs of infection (a burning sensation when you urinate, fever, or chills).
Moy ML, Wein AJ. Additional therapies for storage and emptying failure. In: Wein AJ, ed. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 70.
Wierbicky J, Nesathurai S. Spinal cord injury (thoracic). In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 147.
Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.