Derived from the ancient Greek “kathienai”, which means “to thrust into”, incontinence catheters are an ideal safety net for many individuals.
An incontinence catheter, also known as a urinary catheter, is a flexible product used to empty the bladder. Urine is collected in a drainage bag. Designs of catheters vary, with products available in many shapes and types. They can also be made from various materials, such as rubber, plastic or silicone.
The history of catheterization displays a gradual improvement in their discretion and suitability for a wide range of people. In the middle ages, catheterization was a very public, inconvenient process. Even fairly recently in the 1930s, incontinence was thought to be a personal embarrassment, rather than a medical emergency. The invention of the indwelling Foley catheter, however, opened up a game-changing management process of incontinence. Although the early catheters were usually rigid, the design of catheters has gradually improved over the years. Catheterization was also exclusively available for the treatment of urinary retention in men. Now, however, there are various catheters that can be life-changing for incontinent individuals.
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When are Catheters Necessary?
A urinary catheter is used when people have difficulty urinating naturally. They are generally used as a last resort for when other types of incontinence treatment have been successful. Catheters are often used in hospitals to empty the bladder before or after surgery and to help perform certain tests. Many men opt for catheters after having prostate surgery, for example. Catheters are ideal when someone has an obstruction in the tube that carries urine out of the bladder. This is often due to scarring or after prostate enlargement. Another common instance in which they are used is when people who have nerve damage due to diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and need help urinating. If someone has an epidural anaesthetic, catheters are also ideal to drain the bladder during childbirth.
What Types of Catheters are Available?
When choosing a catheter, the least invasive form of catheterisation should be chosen and only advanced once a method is no longer appropriate. There are two main types of urinary catheters: intermittent catheters and indwelling catheters.
Intermittent self-catheterization is ideal if your bladder does not empty completely, does not empty at all. These are temporarily inserted into the bladder and are removed once the bladder is empty. Depending on individual circumstances, self-catheterization can vary in frequency from weekly to multiple daily insertions. People with certain neurogenic or detrusor muscle dysfunction often have regular self-catheterization regimens. Intermittent self-catheters can eliminate the need for wearing a continuously draining catheter.
These catheters must be prescribed by a healthcare provider and should never be used without adequate competency and education.
Indwelling catheters remain in place for many days or weeks and are held in position by an inflated balloon in the bladder. The Foley catheter is the most common type of indwelling catheter. This is a flexible sterile tube which a clinician passes through the urethra and into the bladder to drain urine.
A large proportion of people prefer to wear an indwelling catheter, as they allow you to avoid the repeated insertions needed with intermittent catheters. They have, however, been shown to be more likely to cause problems such as infections. In the UK, the harm resulting from the use of the Foley catheter costs the National Health Service between $1.0-2.5 billion.
Living with a Catheter
It is important to be aware of the potential risks when living with a catheter. Always be on lookout for unusual health problems, no matter how big or small. Healthcare providers should also provide you with advice on looking out for potential problems and when you should seek further advice. Infections in the urethra, bladder and kidneys are the most common injuries caused by catheters. Also known as urinary tract infections, these can be treated with antibiotics. You should be aware that the longer you wear a catheter, the greater the risk of infection.
To prevent complications, catheters should be used only when clinically indicated. It is important that catheters are inserted correctly, maintained properly and only used for as long as necessary. To ensure you know how to look after yourself with a catheter, you should ask your Doctor or a GP for advice about purchasing new catheter supplies. If you have any discomfort due to the insertion of a catheter, anaesthetic gel can be used to reduce pain. Most people with a long-term catheter will become used to slight discomfort over time until it is unnoticeable.
Do not worry about discretion and judgement for others, as the catheter and bag can be concealed under clothes, and you should be able to carry out most daily activities. Wearing a catheter should not get in the way of your preferred lifestyle or reduce your quality of life.