Intermittent Self-Catheterization vs. Permanent Catheters

June 07,2022 |
Urologist talking to her patient.

The urinary tract is a delicate system that relies on a number of different organs and supportive features to function properly. While urologic problems can increase in risk as you get older, there are several conditions that can occur at any age. When these arise, most individuals will need to use some sort of catheter to help empty their bladder. Catheters—hollow, flexible tubes that assist in urination—come in many shapes, sizes, and materials. The two primary types, intermittent and permanent catheters, are each used in specific circumstances. They reduce the amount of unnecessary stress your bladder endures and thus, decrease the risk of serious complications like irreversible kidney damage or bladder infections. To better understand the differences between the two, when to use them, and how to properly handle each, here is everything you need to know about intermittent self-catheterization and permanent, indwelling catheters. 


Different Types of Catheters

One of the most important things to understand is how to differentiate types of catheters. Intermittent catheters and indwelling catheters are both inserted into the bladder, while external catheters are placed outside of the body and primarily used to catch leaks from incontinence related issues.

Intermittent Catheters

Intermittent urinary catheters are used as an assistive device to empty the bladder. Each time you need to urinate throughout the course of a day, you’ll insert a new catheter and dispose of it when you’re done. You should never reuse intermittent catheters due to the risk of infection and other complications. Intermittent self-catheterization is performed at intervals throughout the day as a way to treat various urologic conditions, alleviate troublesome symptoms, and improve the overall quality of an individual’s life. If you need to perform clean intermittent self-catheterization, no other variables of your life are affected.

There are three primary types of intermittent catheters that you can choose from—each of which offer their own distinct benefits. A straight tip catheter is completely straight from one end to the other, which is best for individuals with an unobstructed urethra. Coudé tip catheters are slightly curved to help facilitate the passage of a catheter to bypass obstructions. This is especially beneficial for individuals with scar tissue in the urethra or benign prostatic hyperplasia. Closed system kits are the best for individuals who will need to self-catheterize on the go. They come pre-lubricated and allow for touch-free insertion. Hydrophilic catheters are a popular closed system kit. 

Indwelling Catheters

Indwelling catheters, also known as Foley catheters, are left in place for a designated period of time. They can be inserted into the bladder either through the urethra or through the wall of the stomach located above the pubic bone. When you have an indwelling catheter, a constant flow of urine streams out of the bladder as it’s produced. Indwelling catheters are held in place by a water-filled balloon and usually need to be changed about once every eight weeks to avoid complications. Individuals should be monitored for signs of infection during this time.

Indwelling catheters are most often used when individuals can’t empty their bladder completely on their own. This is called urinary retention. If you’re suffering from uncontrollable incontinence, indwelling catheters can also help you reduce the risk of experiencing accidents in public.

Your nurse will help you determine which type of urinary drainage bag is best for your circumstances, but if you have any questions or concerns don’t hesitate to ask. There are options to attach the drainage bag to your bed, leg, or even your clothes.

External Catheters

External catheters are completely different than intermittent or indwelling catheters. They’re not inserted into the urethra but are instead used to catch urine as it exits the body. For men, this would be through the use of a condom catheter, which slips over the head of the penis and carries urine away from the body and into a drainage bag. These are good options for individuals who are suffering from serious functional or mental disabilities as they’re easier to use and much less invasive. For women, products called bladder supports can be used. These are inserted in the same way as a tampon, but their unique shape and size work to constrict and support the urethra to reduce stress incontinence caused by coughing, sneezing, or strenuous activity. 


Who Needs Catheterization

Catheterization is used by a wide range of individuals who experience a variety of conditions. Anyone suffering from a health problem that makes it difficult to empty their bladder may benefit from the use of a catheter. Individual circumstances will dictate whether they’re intermittent or indwelling. Some of the most common reasons that you may need to begin using a catheter include:

If you’re experiencing any discomfort when urinating, incontinence related issues, or other signs of a urologic condition, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome will be. Remember, millions of individuals experience some type of urologic condition throughout their life and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. 


Preparing for Catheterization

Once diagnostics are performed, your doctor will provide you with a treatment plan to help mitigate unwanted symptoms and address underlying conditions. If catheterization is involved in this treatment plan, don’t worry. Your doctor will work with you to ensure that you fully understand how to perform clean intermittent self-catheterization and reduce the risk of any associated complications. The most important thing to remember is to wash your hands with soap and water prior to getting started. You should also ensure that you don’t contaminate the catheter itself and consider washing your genitals to reduce the risk of bacterial transference. Once the catheter is inserted, relax and try to urinate as you would normally. If you have any questions, reach out to your doctor or nurse for clarification.


How to Reduce the Risk of Complications

There are a few risks of using urinary catheters, especially if you’re not careful with proper hygiene. Urinary catheters are one of the leading causes of healthcare-associated urinary tract infections and can lead to infections of the bladder or kidneys when not treated appropriately. If possible, opt for intermittent catheters over permanent options such as indwelling catheters. Indwelling catheters can increase the risk of a UTI by about 5%, and there is also a 3-10% daily bacteriuria incidence. Intermittent catheters can reduce the risk of these types of infections by up to 20%. Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling your catheter and make sure that you keep an eye out for any signs of infection. If you notice any burning, itching, redness, or a general feeling of discomfort, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Some of the non-infectious complications of clean intermittent self-catheterization include urethral strictures, bladder stones, bladder fistula, urethral erosion, the creation of a false lumen, and more. Intermittent hematuria is also fairly common, which is why you need to monitor your body for any changes and keep an eye on your urine output.

When beginning the use of urinary catheters, discuss any allergies that you have with your doctor. While some catheters may trigger an allergic reaction, there are several different options for using non-reactive materials. Always read the packaging to determine if a catheter has latex and try to reduce the use of catheters made with DEHP. If you know you’re going to be traveling, try using a closed kit like hydrophilic catheters to reduce the risk of contamination while emptying your bladder in public restrooms.

Each type of urinary catheter serves a specific purpose and can help improve the quality of life for individuals who need them. If you are suffering from any type of urologic problem or underlying condition, don’t hesitate to see your urologist. By taking a proactive approach to your health, you can manage problems and encourage positive reactions to treatment. To help facilitate a healthy experience with urinary catheters, Byram Healthcare has a wide selection of high-quality urological supplies that can be discreetly delivered to your door. Our product guide includes both indwelling catheters and various types of intermittent self-catheters to help support your lifestyle. Browse our product catalog today or call one of our representatives for more information on our catheter delivery program.

Byram Healthcare is a member of the National Association for Continence’s Trusted Partners Program, whose mission is to provide quality continence care through education, collaboration and advocacy. We continue to build partnerships in the clinical community to ensure we focus on what’s best for the patient.