When some individuals think of the word "catheter," oftentimes they associate it with pain. However, catheterization can and should be a comfortable solution for emptying your bladder. If you are experiencing any discomfort when inserting your urinary catheter, there are a few easy tips that you can implement to reduce discomfort.
1. Picking the Right Type of Catheter
Based on your unique needs, your healthcare provider will recommend a specific type of urinary catheter.
Intermittent Catheters, or short term catheters, are typically only used a few times during the day to empty the bladder. The catheter is disposed of and replaced after each use to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs). These catheters are considered to be a more comfortable option because they don’t have to be continuously worn or attached to a collection bag. However, intermittent catheters do require self-catheterization, which can seem daunting to a new catheter user.
Indwelling Foley Catheters stay in your body for prolonged periods of time and are inserted by your physician. Foley catheters are attached to a drainage bag. To prevent the catheter from slipping out, Foley catheters have a small balloon attached to the end which deflates when it needs to be removed. These catheters are changed based on your individual needs and still allow patients to have active lifestyles without the need for self-catheterization.
External Catheters, or condom catheters, are an option exclusively for individuals with male anatomy. External catheters are noninvasive catheters that are structured like a condom, wrapping around the penis to collect urine in a collection bag. Urine bags for external catheters are typically attached to the inner thigh using velcro leg straps. These catheters eliminate the need for self-catheterization and should be changed once per day.
2. Avoiding Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
If you have ever had a catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI), these symptoms may look familiar to you:
Blood in the urine
Urine leakage around the catheter
Pressure, pain, or discomfort in the lower back or stomach
Fever or chills
Nausea or vomiting
CAUTIs are caused by bacteria or fungi entering the urethra and urinary tract through your catheter, causing an infection. Generally, CAUTIs can be treated with antibiotics.
The best way to avoid urinary tract infections (UTIs) is by maintaining proper insertion hygiene. This may seem obvious, but ensure that you wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling your catheter supplies. When you are ready to insert your catheter, dry the insertion area with a clean towel, then open your catheter and insert it before touching anything else.
For indwelling catheters, wash the skin around the entry point every day in the shower. It is important to also clean the catheter tubing daily. Remember to change your drainage bag twice a day. You can do this by washing your hands, removing the urine bag, emptying the bag, cleaning the end of the catheter and drainage bag with an alcohol wipe, and then re-attaching it. Make sure there are no kinks or twists in the tubing to prevent blockage from occurring.
3. Properly Drain Your Bladder
If urine flows back into the bladder or the bladder doesn’t fully empty, infections and discomfort can occur. When using an intermittent catheter, it is important to leave the drainage tube inserted until the flow of urine stops completely, and then push on your bladder to make sure it’s fully empty.
With indwelling or condom catheters, it is in good practice to position your drainage bag below the bladder to ensure proper emptying. Leg bags are a good option for these types of catheters. It is also important to make sure your collection bag is large enough to withstand longer activities such as sleeping or traveling without overflowing. Special night bags can be a great option for sleeping.
4. Try Different Catheter Accessories
There are a variety of catheter types and accessories to choose from. Remember, you don’t have to settle for discomfort! It might take a little bit of trial and error, but it is important to keep trying different parts and accessories until you find the type of catheter that is most comfortable to you.
For example, if your catheter tube is rough around the edges, you can try a different option that may feel more comfortable. There are pre-lubed catheter options if you are uncomfortable putting the lube on the catheter yourself. There are even different tips that you can try if you have discomfort or trouble inserting your catheter. Most importantly, know that you do not have to experience discomfort with your catheter.