How to Reduce Catheter Pain

September 28,2023 |
washing hands in sink

Although several things can contribute to catheter pain, some of the most common reasons for discomfort are improper self-catheterization and the wrong product type. Luckily, there are several ways to reduce catheter pain and make the process as comfortable as possible. To help you avoid any complications and prioritize your comfort during intermittent catheterization, consider some of the most effective ways to reduce catheter pain below.


1. Find the Right Size Intermittent Catheters

There are several different types of urinary catheters to choose from, each offering unique characteristics such as French size (diameter), tip type, and length. You should first consider the catheter diameter that best fits your body. Even the most microscopic difference in the size of the urethra can make a difference, so talk to your doctor about your options. They should be able to help you determine the correct option based on your anatomy. Otherwise, when you try to insert a catheter that is too large, it can lead to unnecessary discomfort.

Typically speaking, the French size (which refers to the diameter of the catheter) for females is between 10 and 12. The range for males is typically between 14 and 16, with most men averaging closer to 14. Additionally, children who need pediatric catheterization may use a size that ranges between 6 and 10.

The size of the catheter you use may also depend on drainage needs. For example, if you need intermittent catheterization after injury or surgery and there are blood clots in your urine, you may need a bigger size to allow for adequate drainage. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best option for your needs but don’t hesitate to speak up if you experience discomfort or pain.


2. Determine the Best Length of Catheter

Next, it’s important to assess the length of your intermittent catheter. The length of catheter you’ll need typically depends on your gender, body type, and medical needs. Again, this is something your doctor should help you with, but if you experience discomfort, it’s best to reassess to ensure the catheter isn’t going too far into your urinary system.

There are three length ranges, each of which varies by gender and age. The standard catheter length for women is usually about 7 to 10 inches, as the urethra is generally much shorter than in males. However, you may need a longer catheter if you have reduced mobility or have a stoma. For men, the standard length is about 15 to 18 inches. Children who need to use a catheter will average between 11 to 13 inches, with females using the shorter ends.

The slight difference in length between adult females and pediatric females makes the insertion easier as it allows for more space to grasp the device. However, for very young pediatric catheterization, shorter catheters may be recommended. If you need to perform pediatric catheterization on your child, your doctor will go through detailed steps on how to do this before sending you home.


3. Experiment with Different Types of Catheters

Once you know the size and length of the catheter you’ll need, you can start to experiment with different types of urinary catheters. The two main types you’ll want to decide between are straight tip and coudé tip catheters.

Straight tip catheters are 100% straight, from one end to the other. They’re still flexible, but without any added pressure, they remain mostly straight. Straight tip catheters are best for individuals who don’t experience any type of urethral obstruction. A coudé tip catheter has a slight bend or angle, which can help you pass any obstructions during insertion. People with scar tissue in the urethra or men with an enlarged prostate can benefit from a coudé tip. There are also several different variations of coudé tips to maximize comfort levels.

Some people also prefer to use external catheters—like condom catheters—which don’t require insertion into the urethra. However, these aren’t always effective for everyone needing clean intermittent catheterization, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your options.


4. Choose the Right Catheter Material

The material of the catheter can also make a difference, especially for people with allergies. For example, you can easily reduce catheter pain by switching to vinyl or silicone catheters if you have a latex allergy. Always talk to your doctor ahead of time and inform them of any allergies so they can help guide you to the right type of catheter material to use. Red rubber catheters would also be another option to help reduce catheter pain.


5. Use Lubrication with Uncoated Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters are coated with a polymer that reacts with water to create a slippery byproduct. This makes them self-lubricating, which can be great for individuals who need to simplify the process of intermittent catheterization. However, whenever you use a catheter that’s not hydrophilic, you’ll need to lubricate it yourself.

There are several options for catheter lubricating jelly that you can use to help reduce friction during insertion. This, in turn, reduces catheter pain and can make the process much less intimidating. Some people may need more lubrication, while others can reduce discomfort with less. There are several types of lubricating jelly to choose from, so talk to your doctor about your options and try a few out.


6. Always Wash Your Hands

Infections in the urethra can cause pain and discomfort, so hand hygiene in intermittent catheterization is so important. First, wet your hands with clean, running water and lather them with soap. Then, scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure that you cover all surfaces of your hand, including between the fingers and under the nails. Then, dry your hands using a clean towel before you prep the genital area. Skipping this step can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) and unnecessary catheter pain.

In addition to washing your hands, you should always avoid reusing intermittent catheters. When you reuse catheters, you significantly increase the risk of infection and other issues. No sterile cleaning techniques can effectively sanitize an intermittent catheter at home after it’s been used, which leads to unnecessary exposure to bacteria. Plus, if you’re using a hydrophilic catheter, the coating will be lost, and pain can occur from dry insertion. To avoid finding yourself in this situation, always check your catheter supplies and order additional products well in advance.


7. Try Catheters with Polished Eyelets

All catheters have eyelets on the insertion tip. Eyelets are the small holes that allow urine to drain from your bladder, through the catheter, and into the toilet or drainage bag. Some eyelets are created using a process that can result in rough edges, causing pain or discomfort during insertion. To reduce catheter pain caused by eyelets, look for brands that advertise smooth or polished eyelets instead.


8. Learn How to Properly Catheterize

Regardless of your gender, learning how to catheterize properly is one of the best ways to ensure you don’t cause yourself unnecessary pain or discomfort. Remember, you should never force the catheter into the urethra, as doing so can cause damage and lead to several complications. Instead, review this guide on how to catheterize properly and ask your doctor if you have any further questions.


9. Try to Relax

Finally, when inserting your catheter at home, try your best to relax your body. It can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially during the first few times, but it shouldn’t cause physical pain. Clenching or tensing during insertion can make intermittent catheterization more difficult, which can increase pain or discomfort. Practice relaxation techniques, including taking a few deep breaths or engaging in muscle relaxation before inserting the catheter. However, don’t rush the process. When inserting, take your time and slowly push the catheter to avoid damaging the urethra.


Intermittent self-catheterization can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it shouldn’t be causing you any pain or discomfort. To reduce catheter pain, using high-quality materials that fit your body and needs is important. To help you find the perfect catheter, Byram Healthcare is here. As one of the leading medical supply companies in the country, we work with Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance providers to help you navigate the intricate process of obtaining insurance-covered urologic products like intermittent catheters and more. Learn more about our mission or browse our urology products today.