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What is a catheter?

People who have difficulty emptying their bladder use a catheter, which is a thin tube that is passed into the bladder (usually through the urethra) and allows the urine to drain freely. There are two main types of catheter:

  • Intermittent catheters – also called Nelaton or “in/out” catheters are inserted into the bladder temporarily to allow it to empty and are then removed.

  • Indwelling catheters - also called Foley catheters. These are designed to remain in the bladder continuously for longer periods of time.

Catheters should only be used after a thorough assessment by a healthcare professional.1

If you are having difficulty inserting an intermittent catheter at the entry point of your bladder don't force it! Instead, wiggle your toes. I know this sounds strange but it's the best advice I was given.

Jay age 56

Top Tips

  1. If you have an indwelling catheter try wearing open crotch knickers that allow easier positioning of your catheter, also stockings worn with a suspender belt are less restricting than tights
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  3. For males who experience discomfort from an indwelling catheter moving about and rubbing the urethra, close fitting underwear can be the answer. Choose wide crotch pants with a high elastane content for stretch and support available from a well know retailer or on-line in a range of styles.
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  5. If catheterised with an indwelling catheter when sitting on the toilet there is a risk of the catheter tube dropping into the toilet pan and contacting unclean surfaces. Wearing stockings and suspenders allows you to loop the catheter through a suspender strap and through the lacy suspender belt at the waist if necessary, keeping the catheter tube close to your body and away from unclean surfaces. A lacy suspender belt with lace top stockings gives a pretty appearance appreciated by partners.
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  7. I stick the mirror I use for intermittent catheterisation to the toilet seat with microporous tape to secure it. It's easy to remove after. I always wash the mirror afterwards.
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  9. Look for intermittent catheters with smooth eyes
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  11. You can use a catheter valve with an indwelling catheter, but have a bag on when you’re out. If your bladder starts to spasm because it’s full you can open the valve and pass urine into the bag.
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  13. If you have an indwelling catheter with a valve and you are going out for the day, connect it to a leg bag with a catheter retaining strap. When your bladder gets full you can empty in to the bag and then find a loo.
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  15. Lift up the toilet seat and lower your trousers and pants before washing your hands to begin with before performing intermittent catheterisation. I wipe down there with an anti-bacterial wipe before inserting. Ask your gp for a radar key.
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  17. If you use water for intermittent catheterisation and you are flying, you may not be allowed to take your own water through security. A doctor’s letter can help with this but even that may not work! Allow plenty of time at the airport to purchase bottled water on the flight side of security.
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  19. Intermittent catheters can be disposed of using scented disposal bags (the sort used for disposing of feminine hygiene products or babies’ diapers).
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  21. When performing intermittent catheterisation, I have found that extra urine flows at the end of the process by leaning backwards then forwards when standing. Experiment for yourself and I hope it works for you.
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  23. If you use intermittent catheters that need water for lubrication, take a bottle of water with you when away from home. It may also be useful to bring a small towel for washing hands/genitals.
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  25. When doing intermittent catheterisation away from home you may need to take a small towel with you for washing hands/genitals
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  27. When travelling overseas - some catheter companies have a travel certificate (Medical Validation Certificate) that you can easily download from their website and fill in to use for customs staff or TSA officials at airports.
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  29. Not all intermittent catheters are made of PVC. There are more environmentally friendly catheters available that are PVC and phthalate free. They are POBE: Polyolefin based elastomer.
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  31. Shake an intermittent catheter a bit before removing it. Sometimes a few extra drops of urine will come out.
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  33. Use compact type intermittent catheters when away from home e.g. at work.
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  35. A small travel kettle may be useful if you wish to use boiled water for intermittent catheterisation
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  37. Some places use low energy light (which may not be as bright) be prepared for this and take a torch if you need light for intermittent catheterisation or ask for a standard light bulb
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  39. Women can use luke warm water to lubricate a non-coated intermittent catheter before use
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Continence Product Advisor

Incontinence can often be cured. Incontinence is a problem with one or more underlying causes that can often be cured or improved. Whatever your age seeking help is always advisable. Take the first step to getting help by contacting a health professional or continence organisation in your country.

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