Ultimate Guide to the Different Types of Urinary Catheters

May 03,2019 |
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A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Urinary Catheters

Urinary catheters are hollow, flexible tubes that assist in urination. They collect urine directly from the bladder and lead it outside of the body into a drainage bag.1 There are a number of reasons why someone might need a urinary catheter, but in general, catheters are used when someone can’t empty their bladder on their own. This is called urinary retention.2 Catheters are an important medical device since when your bladder doesn’t empty, it puts unnecessary stress and strain on your kidneys, which eventually leads to kidney failure.1 Serious and elongated cases of kidney failure often results in permanent, irreversible damage.

There are a number of different sizes, types, and materials that catheters come in. Catheters are only used until a person regains the control to urinate on their own, making them primarily short-term solutions. However, there are some cases where prolonged or permanent catheter use is needed, such as in elderly people or people with severe illnesses.1


When to Use a Urinary Catheter

As we mentioned, the primary cause for getting a urinary catheter is in short periods of time where you may not be able to empty your bladder on your own. If you’re having difficulty controlling your urination, urinary incontinence, or urinary retention, your doctor will likely recommend a catheter.1

Urinary incontinence is when accidental urine loss occurs and can happen in both men and women.2 Urinary retention occurs when you can’t empty your bladder without added help.

There are a number of reasons you might be experiencing these problems, but the catheter will allow your doctor to find the underlying cause and address the problem. Bladder or kidney stones, blood clots, or recent surgery in the hip area are primary culprits. Certain medications can also impair the effectiveness of your bladder muscles, making it difficult to completely empty your bladder on your own. Talk to your doctor about any and all medications you are taking if you experience problems with incontinence, retention, or overall urine control.

In more severe instances, such as nerve injuries to the brain, spinal cord, or bladder, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, dementia or an enlarged prostate, long-term catheter use is often recommended.


Types of Urinary Catheters

If you need to get a urinary catheter, there are a few different types to be aware of. Your doctor will work with you to find the type of catheter that works for your specific condition and comfort levels, but if your doctor approves, you can test out a few to make sure you find the best fit. Typically, catheters are made from silicone, latex, or a combination of the two.3

Intermittent Catheters 

If you only need to wear a catheter for a short period of time, such as after a surgery, your doctor will recommend an intermittent catheter. Intermittent catheters are used for many bedridden or ambulatory patients. The catheter connects to a drainage bag that can then be emptied into the toilet. Using an intermittent catheter means that you will need to insert and remove the catheter multiple times throughout the day.5

Luckily, using an intermittent catheter is easy, effective, and safe. With some practice, most people with mobility can insert and remove the catheter on their own, without the assistance of a medical professional. This is more beneficial than using a prolonged, continuously draining catheter because it has less risk for distended bladders or infection.5 It also allows you to maintain a normal, active lifestyle.

Intermittent catheters come in straight tip, coude tip, or closed system kits.

Straight Tip Catheters

A straight tip catheter is a catheter that is 100% straight, from one end to the next. Since they’re made with flexible materials, straight tip catheters can still move and bend, but without added pressure it stays straight. This is one of the most common types of catheters and come in a variety of lengths to accommodate differing lengths of the male and female urethra. People with an unobstructed pathway to the bladder will use a straight tip catheter. Straight tip catheters do not come pre-lubricated, so you will need to add an extra step to the insertion process.

Coudé Tip Catheters

A coudé tip catheter is straight for the most part but has a curved tip. The slight bend or angle allows the catheter to bypass any obstructions—such as scar tissue or an enlarged prostate—that may be blocking the urethra.3

Depending on your specific needs, there are a few variations of coudé catheters to choose from. A coudé olive tip has a bent tip with a small bulb at the end, further assisting in navigating obstructions.3 A coudé tiemann tip is longer, thinner, and more flexible, making insertion easier in smaller openings.3 Coudé tip catheters do not come pre-lubricated either.

Closed System Kits

If you’re worried about contamination, closed system kits are a good catheter to consider. These are self-contained catheters that come pre-lubricated and contain their own collection bag.4 The “touchless” insertion process allows you to keep contamination from being introduced into the urethra. The collection bag allows your urine to empty into a transportable bag rather than into a toilet or open receptacle. Closed system kits are great for people that travel often or need an easier way to empty their bladder throughout the day. They’re also a great alternative for people who have limited mobility.

Indwelling Catheters

An indwelling catheter is a type of internal urinary catheter, meaning that it resides entirely inside of the bladder. These include urethral or suprapubic catheter and are most commonly referred to as Foley catheters.1

These catheters are most commonly inserted into the bladder through your urethra. However, a suprapubic catheter is inserted through a small incision or hole in your abdomen.1 Both types of indwelling catheters are equipped with a small, water filled balloon at the end to ensure that the catheter stays in place. When the catheter needs to be removed, the balloon is deflated.

Indwelling catheters are typically used when a person needs a catheter for a prolonged period of time. Since they reside inside of your bladder, they cannot be inserted without a medical professional. The indwelling catheter is attached to a bag that can be worn on your body, similarly to a colostomy bag.

External Catheters

External catheters are placed outside the body. There are two primary types of external catheters: condom catheters and female urethral inserts. Condom catheters are primarily used for men with serious functional or mental disabilities as they are simple to use and much less invasive.1 They slip over the head of the penis, similarly to a condom, and carry urine away from the body through a tube connected to a drainage bag.1 

Female urethral inserts are alternatives to catheters for women who experience urinary leakage.1 It’s inserted into the urethra and ultimately creates a soft seal near the end of the bladder. Due to the differences in anatomy across each woman, female urethral inserts can be custom fit by a medical professional.


Urinary Catheter Complications

As with any external medical device, using urinary catheters pose a risk of complications. For example, they are the leading cause of healthcare-associated urinary tract infections.1 To reduce the risk of any complications, it’s important to practice good hygiene during catheter insertion, removal, and maintenance.

In addition to increased risk of UTIs, urinary catheters may produce allergic reactions. If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, it’s important to talk to your doctor immediately. Sometimes it’s a simple fix, such as alternating latex for silicone, and other times it requires a more in-depth analysis.

Urinary catheters have the potential to increase your risk for bladder stones, bloody urine, urethra injury, kidney damage, or septicemia.

To avoid any complications, make sure you clean the catheter along with the entry site with soap and water frequently. If you’re using one-time catheters, always discard them after each use. Staying hydrated is the best way to make sure that your urine is regularly expelled from your body, which removes bacteria from the urethra and reduces the risk of developing a UTI.


If you think you may benefit from getting a urinary catheter, talk to your doctor today. Urinary catheters are a great way to improve the lifestyle of someone with urinary incontinence, urinary retention, or problems controlling your bladder. To learn more about types of urinary catheters, urology problems, or if you need supplies or educational resources, visit our educational support page or 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.