This piece has been medically reviewed by Aleece Fosnight, MPAS, PA-C, CSC-S, CSE, NCMP, IF, Medical Advisor to Aeroflow Urology.
One of the most common complications that can occur for catheter users is a catheter blockage. Catheter blockages often form from a buildup of minerals, salts, and crystalline deposits which can block the eye holes of the catheter and prevent urine from draining from the bladder. These obstructions often begin as a small obstruction and can develop fully to a complete blockage. More often than not, these blockages will affect long-time catheter users.
As with other urological issues, it is important to resolve a catheter blockage immediately. Unresolved blockages can lead to pain, urinary retention, bladder and kidney infections, and can ultimately allow urine to flow back into the kidneys which can lead to serious kidney issues or bloodstream infections such as renal failure and sepsis.
Steps to Diagnosis a Catheter Blockage and Obstruction
If you suspect you may have a blockage or obstruction in your catheter, the process of removing the blockage will vary depending on the type of catheter you have.
Indwelling Catheter. If you have a suprapubic or indwelling (Foley) catheter, your catheter will be placed into the bladder to drain your urine into a drainage bag. If you notice that the drainage bag is empty:
If all of the above components appear to be functioning correctly, and you do not have the urge to urinate or are experiencing abdominal pain, drink two glasses of water and monitor your catheter for 30 minutes. If no urine passes, contact your doctor or visit a medical facility for immediate assistance.
You should also seek medical attention immediately if you have the urge to urinate, abdominal cramping or discomfort, or if you’re unable to detect bladder fullness.
Intermittent Catheter. An intermittent catheter is used several times a day when you need to use the restroom. If no urine is expelled after insertion:
If you are unable to insert your catheter or your bladder won’t drain after trying the above methods, seek medical attention immediately.
Catheter Complications that Can Lead to Blockages or Obstructions
There are various factors that can be a sign of a catheter becoming blocked or obstructed. It is important to pay attention to these warning signs to prevent your catheter from becoming fully obstructed.
Bypassing: Urine leaking around the catheter can indicate that urine is unable to drain through the catheter and will leak around the catheter instead.
Stomach Cramps: Pain and cramping can be a sign of bladder irritation or the result of too much pressure being placed on the bladder due to constipation.
Encrustation: The build-up of salt and minerals from urine can block your catheter tube, resulting in an obstruction. Bacterial infections can also cause the urine to be more alkaline, leading to more crystals in the tubing.
Drainage Bag Location: If the drainage bag is not located below the bladder, this can cause improper drainage to occur.
Additional Factors: Blood clots, bladder stones, and kidney stones can also cause catheter obstructions.
How to Prevent Catheter Blockages and Obstructions
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent mineral build up in the urine as well as prevent overall bladder irritation. We recommend avoiding alcohol, acidic juices, and caffeine which can all be dehydrating.
Maintain healthy fiber intake. We recommend consuming a healthy amount of fiber to avoid constipation. Constipation can place direct pressure on the bladder which can cause catheter obstructions.
Follow proper sanitary protocols. Wash your hands before handling all pieces of your catheter, and do not open the catheter package until it is ready to be inserted. Washing your genitals with a warm cloth before and after inserting your catheter is also recommended.
Remove indwelling catheters more often if you’re prone to obstructions. Pay close attention to how often your catheter becomes blocked and any associated causes. If you use an indwelling catheter and you find your catheter is frequently becoming blocked, try to remove the catheter more frequently.
Consult your doctor. If you begin to take a new antibiotic or other type of medication, ask your doctor if you should also change catheter types.
Check the pH of your urine for high alkaline levels. Urinary pH levels between 4.5 to 8 are considered normal, but anything below 6.7 can increase the chances of encrustation. Citrates and sodium can help make urine less alkaline.
Try different catheter types. If you use a straight tip catheter, a coudé tip catheter can help navigate obstructions due to enlarged prostates. Lubricated, antimicrobial intermittent catheters can also be a helpful alternative.
Check your eligibility for free catheters through Aeroflow Urology. Our Continence Care Specialists will match you with the right catheter type that you can receive monthly, at no cost to you, through your insurance.
Get Catheter Supplies Through Insurance
Aeroflow Urology can assist you in getting high quality catheters from leading manufacturers such as Cure, Coloplast, Bard, Hollister, and more at no cost through your insurance policy. We work with all major insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid, to help you maximize your insurance benefits and stop paying for your catheter supplies out of pocket. Simply complete our quick qualification form below, and we’ll take care of the rest - from working with your insurance provider to getting all needed medical information from your healthcare professional. Our Continence Care Specialists can also assist you in determining which type of catheter will fit your specific needs and can also provide you with samples to try at home.
Information provided on the Aeroflow Urology blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care from a healthcare professional. Aeroflow recommends consulting your healthcare provider if you are experiencing medical issues relating to incontinence.