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About Intermittent Catheters

Everything you need to know about intermittent catheters.

You may be here because you or a loved one have been prescribed intermittent catheters to manage bladder health.

Sometimes this happens seemingly out of the blue; maybe you went to the doctor after having a urinary tract infection or maybe your bladder was impacted by anesthesia during surgery. Other times, bigger life events bring on the need for self-catheterization – chronic illness or spinal cord injury.

Whatever the reason or duration of need, we’re here for support and answers. 

Simply put, an intermittent urinary catheter is a tube that is inserted into your bladder through the urethra, allowing urine to drain freely. For intermittent catheter users, they insert a catheter, drain the urine then dispose of the catheter. This is different than an indwelling catheter also known as a foley which remains anchored inside of the bladder with an inflated balloon. Foley catheters attach to a drain bag and are commonly used in hospital settings. 

There are three common types of intermittent catheters:

  1. Straight or coudé/Tiemann intermittent catheters
  2. Hydrophilic catheters have pre-lubricated layer of coating, bound to the surface of the tube itself, which binds with water.
  3. Closed system catheters are pre-lubricated intermittent catheter, contained inside of a collection bag.

Your healthcare provider will help you select the intermittent catheter the best fits you or your child's needs.  Determining what type of intermittent catheter is best, will depend on several factors such as gender, age, weight or size, anatomy (urethra vs. catheterizable stoma), dexterity and limitations, wheelchair use, and latex allergies.

The selection criteria will also take into consideration the required catheter length, French size or diameter, type of tip (straight or coudé/Tiemann), composition (PVC, versus latex), and lubrication properties (gel versus hydrophilic).

  • Intermittent catheter tip
    Intermittent catheters come in two different tip options – straight tip and coude tip. Straight tip is the most common style and has a rounded, straight insertion tip. Coude, which is French for ‘elbow’ or ‘bend’, has a slight bend at the end of the catheter that is inserted. Coude tip is designed to maneuver around obstructions in the urethra like scar tissue or enlarged prostate for those with male anatomy. Please note, you want the curve of a coude tip to face up during insertion to follow the natural anatomy of the urethra during insertion.
  • Eyelets
    Also known as drain holes or catheter eyes, the drainage eyelets of a catheter are found on the insertion tip of a catheter. Catheter eyelets are positioned so that when the catheter enters through the urethra into the bladder, urine drains through those holes. One way manufacturers create a catheter eyelet is by literally punching a hole in the material. This process is known as “cold-punching.” While this will create eyelets that do their intended job, some catheter users find that punched eyelets are rougher. If the edges are not soft, the catheter may create friction or discomfort as it inserts or withdraws. Many catheter products today have polished drainage eyelets, including those by Convatec. Polishing the drain holes makes the edges much smoother, which may feel more comfortable.
  • Funnel End
    The funnel end of your catheter is the end opposite of the insertion tip where your urine comes out. In some catheter brands, the catheter funnel end is shaped more ergonomically for easy gripping, which some people prefer to use as a sort of “no-touch” catheter grip to avoid touching the tube.

    Coudé catheters’ funnel ends sometimes feature a helpful raised bump or notch on the funnel to indicate the angle of the curved insertion tip.

    Catheter funnel ends can be used as a universal catheter connector to connect the catheter tube to an external receptacle such as a urine drain bag or extension tubing.

    Most catheters drainage funnels are color-coded to help identify the French size of their catheter and make sure you’re using the right size for your anatomy every time.

Intermittent catheter sizes include the length and diameter, which is measured in French or Charriere sizes. 

French Size: Catheter French sizes generally start very small at 5 or 6 French and progress upward in size, through as large as 24 French.

A universal color-coding system allows you to simply look at the funnel end to make sure you’re using the prescribed French size. With the right French size, urine should flow from your bladder, through the tube, at a steady pace while keeping you comfortable.

  • Knowing if your catheter is too small: For catheters that may be too small, you may experience spillage, or urine flowing outside of the tube.
  • Knowing if your catheter is too big: For that are too big for your urethra, you may experience discomfort or pain.

If you feel that your catheter is too small or too big, speak with your doctor. You and your healthcare professional can determine together what size and length catheter may best suit your individual needs. Your doctor should take into consideration your preferences as well as your particular anatomy.

Catheter length: Male and female anatomies require different length catheters as the male urethra is longer than the female urethra. However, some women prefer a longer catheter. Your healthcare provider will help you decide the right size and length catheter for you.

  • Male length catheters are usually 16 inches (40cm) in length.
  • Female length catheters range from 6-8 inches (15-20cm) in length.
  • Pediatric length catheters typically range from 6-12 inches (15-30cm) in length.

For children, boys may need to use a pediatric length or longer 12-16 inch (30-40cm) length catheter to ensure it is long enough to reach the bladder and provide complete emptying. Girls can use either a male or a female short style catheter as the female urethra is much shorter.

The most common material for intermittent catheters is vinyl but many who have been cathing for a while may remember red rubber catheters which contain latex. Most manufacturers have moved away from latex products due to the risk for allergic reaction. 

A common question we hear from catheter users is what is DEHP and why is it in some catheter products? DEHP is a compound that is used as a softener in many products including some medical devices like intermittent catheters. While the use of DEHP will vary between manufacturers, Convatec is proud to have a catheter portfolio that is DEHP free. 

We’ve seen catheter users get creative with how they store their products, but one theme is consistent – you want to make sure you have enough on hand and in enough places so you have product available when you need it. A lot of intermittent catheter users will keep supplies in various places around their house like bathroom or hallway closets for easy access. We also encourage having a small backup stock in case you start running low or find your frequency changing with fluid intake changes. 

Regardless of where you store your catheters, it is ideal to keep them at room temperature and in a dry environment. 

Depending on your life-style, it may be convenient to keep a few catheters in your car, especially if you do a lot of driving or tend to spend a lot of time away from home. If you choose to keep extras in your car, it is important to avoid leaving your catheters in extreme hot or cold temperatures for more than 24 hours. When flying, you’ll also want to think about carrying extra supplies both in your carry on and checked bags. Learn more about tips for traveling with catheters.

Once you’ve used your catheter, most can be disposed of with normal household waste, simply tossed in your bathroom waste bin. But we know when you’re away from the privacy of your home, it can be stressful to find a discreet way to dispose of your used products. Convatec offers discreet products that can offer peace of mind when it comes to cathing in public. 

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Enroll in me+™ or Request Product Samples

The me+™ support program offers tools to help make life as a catheter user completely your own. Enroll in me+™ or request free product samples. Experience the latest technology and discover answers to the most commonly asked cathing questions.

Adjusting to cathing can be tough, with a range of practical, physical and emotional challenges. You don’t have to figure it out alone.

Speak with a member of the me+™ support team today.

Call 1-800-422-8811 (M-F, 8:30 AM-7:00 PM ET).

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