Significance of Hand Hygiene in Intermittent Catheterization

April 23,2019 |
Washing Hands in Sink

The Importance of Hand Hygiene in Intermittent Catheterization

Using the bathroom shouldn’t be a task that requires a lot of thought, but for some, it is. If you’re one of the many Americans living with a bladder problem, you know how frustrating daily life can be. They cause frequent interruptions to our lives and in certain circumstances, embarrassing accidents. However, living with a bladder problem doesn’t need to disrupt your life. There are many treatments available to help alleviate symptoms, reduce accidents, and keep you healthy along the way.

One way you can achieve this is through the use of intermittent catheterization.

If you decide to talk to your doctor about using a catheter to help with your bladder problems, you will need to fully understand and practice good hygiene. Good hygiene will ensure that you’re safe and don’t put yourself at risk for preventable infections. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the importance of hand hygiene in intermittent catheterization.

What is Intermittent Catheterization?

Intermittent catheterization, also referred to as self-catheterization, is the process of inserting a catheter into your urethra to drain your bladder at multiple intervals throughout the day. Unlike indwelling catheters, intermittent catheters will need to be removed and cleaned or thrown away each time you empty your bladder. They are not continuously draining catheters so don’t leave them in after you’ve emptied your bladder.

Once you learn how to self-catheterize, you’ll be able to do so in the comfort of your own home without the help of a healthcare professional. As long as you practice good hygiene during this process, you’ll be able to reap the benefits without much added risk.

Who Needs Intermittent Catheterization

Intermittent catheterization is used to help manage a number of different symptoms. Talk to your doctor today if you think you might benefit from using a catheter. Those that will benefit the most from using intermittent catheterization include people who suffer from incontinence, urinary retention, or those with severe bladder problems.1 People recovering from surgery may also use intermittent catheterization to help reduce overall healing time.

If you’re living with spina bifida, have suffered a spinal cord injury, or have other neurological conditions, your doctor will likely prescribe intermittent catheterization.1   

Benefits of Intermittent Catheterization

Bladder problems cause a lot of strain on your life. They can lead to disruptions in your daily routine or embarrassing accidents. Intermittent catheterization can help you control your symptoms, avoid disruption, and improve your overall quality of life. Plus, they’re safe, simple, and effective.


In comparison to indwelling catheters, intermittent catheters are much safer. Indwelling catheters can lead to complications like infection, leaking, blockage, and even bladder spasms.1 Since you’ll be removing intermittent catheters after each use, the risks of developing serious complications are drastically reduced.1 Make sure that you follow your doctor’s guidelines on how to insert and remove the catheter so that you can do so on your own, without any pain or discomfort.


While it might feel a bit odd at first, self-catheterization is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. Unless you have limited mobility or dexterity, intermittent catheterization can be done independently. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to self-catheterize, a caregiver or loved one will be able to help.1


Unlike continuously draining catheters, intermittent catheters give you the freedom and flexibility to live your life on your own terms. As long as you follow your doctor’s guidelines and practice good hand hygiene, you’ll benefit from using intermittent catheterization.

Are There Any Disadvantages?

While intermittent catheterization may seem like a good solution for you, there are a few downsides. For instance, you might need to keep a meticulous log of your liquid input and output to ensure that your body is functioning properly. You will also have to adjust to the process of inserting and removing the catheter, which many people find difficult at first. Other disadvantages include:

Pain or Discomfort

If you have any signs of pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor. Pain or discomfort is an indication that you’re not inserting the catheter correctly or that you have an infection.

Using a Public Restroom

Learning how to use a public restroom with a catheter will take some time. Make sure that your catheter leads into the toilet or you have a drainage bag with you at all times. If you go into a stall after washing your hands, always use hand sanitizer before inserting the catheter.

Increase Risk of Urinary Tract Infections

The primary disadvantage of using an intermittent catheter is urinary tract infections due to poor hygiene. Luckily, these are mostly preventable, as long as you take the proper precautions.

How to Safely Perform Intermittent Catheterization 

To avoid infection, you need to take the time to safely self-catheterize. While the overall use of intermittent catheter use reduces your chance of infection2, you still need to be careful.

Wash Your Hands

Hand hygiene is essential. Always start this process by washing your hands. According to the CDC, there are five steps to washing your hands the right way.3

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Get the backs of your hands along with in between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

For added protection, carry hand sanitizer with you.

Prep Your Genital Area

Next, prep your genital area for catheter insertion. This is easily achieved through cleansing. Use mild soap and water to gently wipe the area from front to back then dry it with a clean paper towel.2 After cleansing your genitals, avoid coming in contact with anything else to reduce contamination. If you do touch something, wash your hands again or use hand sanitizer. To learn more about how to self-catheterize for males, click here. To learn more about how to self-catheterize for females, click here.

Discarding Your Catheter

Intermittent catheters aren’t meant to be continuously re-used. In fact, the health guidelines in place recommend using a new, sterile catheter every time you need to empty your bladder.2 This is the best way to limit infection. Discard your intermittent catheter after each use. If your doctor has prescribed a reusable catheter, see if you can switch to a disposable one.

The Importance of Effective Hand Washing

Safe intermittent self-catheterization starts with effective hand washing. We can’t stress this enough. Washing your hands prior to using your catheter is absolutely essential to avoid infection. Since you’re dealing with bodily fluids, you should also wash your hands after using your intermittent catheter.

If you don’t wash your hands, you will be transferring millions of microscopic germs and bacteria into your urethra. This creates a breeding ground for urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are annoying, yes, but they can also be extremely dangerous. Once the infection reaches your kidneys, there’s a greater risk of permanent damage and it is harder to treat.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections

If you’re currently using an intermittent catheter and notice any of these signs or symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor will perform a diagnostic test to check for any signs of infection and follow up with a treatment plan. Symptoms can include one or more of the following:4

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Leakage or voiding between catheterizations
  • Spasms of legs, abdomen, or bladder
  • Increase in catheterization frequency
  • Increase in urgency to catheterize
  • Burning sensation of the urethra, penis, or pubic area
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Low back aches or pains
  • Fatigue

While there are many options for UTI self-treatments, it’s always better to go to your doctor and get a medical diagnosis. You might be able to alleviate symptoms at home, but you won’t know if the infection is still present or not without the proper tests.

To avoid any problems with infection, wash your hands thoroughly every time you use your catheter.


If you experience incontinence or any other bladder problem that diminishes your quality of life, talk to your doctor about using intermittent catheterization. There are many benefits in using a catheter and as long as you practice good hand hygiene, you’ll reduce your chances of infection. If you do get any symptoms of a urinary tract infection or any other infection, contact your doctor immediately. If you have other urology problems or want additional educational resources, check out our educational support page at Byram Healthcare. We also have a wide range of products to help replenish your intermittent catheter supplies. You can find them in our product selection guide. Byram is a full-service urological care supplier and offers a wide selection of high quality urological supplies that are discreetly delivered to your home. We also offer a team of knowledgeable urological customer service specialists to help answer questions and offer you personalized, confidential services.