Why You Should Never Reuse Intermittent Catheters

September 30,2021 |
Woman washing her hands.

Intermittent catheterization is the process of using a thin, hollow tube to help drain your bladder periodically. They are only kept in for the duration of use and then removed. Intermittent catheters are not left in place and doing so can increase your risk of serious complications and infection. There are several different reasons someone may use intermittent catheters throughout their life and while it might seem inconvenient, doing so can bring several benefits to your life. Once you get past the initial challenges, you’ll find that using intermittent catheters are easy and a great way to address problems that may be diminishing your quality of life. However, intermittent catheters are single use for a reason. To better understand, here’s why you should never reuse intermittent catheters.

Different Types of Urinary Catheters

The process of using a catheter is very similar, regardless of the type that you choose. However, some catheters are better for certain individuals. Your doctor will work with you to find a catheter that allows you to empty your bladder in the most comfortable manner possible. Therefore, you may have to try a few different catheters before finding out which one is the best for you. Some of the most common types of intermittent catheters include the following.

Straight Tip Catheters

Straight tip catheters are a type of intermittent catheters that are 100% straight from one end to the other. They’re flexible, so they can still bend, but without an outside pressure they maintain a straight shape. Straight tip catheters are one of the most commonly used types of catheters for both men and women and come in varying lengths. They’re not recommended for use by people who have obstructions blocking the urethra.

Coudé Tip Catheters

Coudé tip catheters are also a type of intermittent catheter. The only difference between coudé and straight tip catheters is that coudé catheters have a slight bend or angle to the shape, allowing the catheter to easily bypass obstructions that block or limit access to the urethra. There are several variations to coudé tip catheters to help accommodate individuals with varying obstructions.

Hydrophilic Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters are a specific type of catheter that come pre-lubricated with a unique polymer coating that reacts with water to create a slippery byproduct. This allows for easy intermittent self-catheterization and helps reduce damage to the urethra for those who need to catheterize often.

Closed-System Catheters

A closed-system catheter is a type of catheter that is self-contained, allowing for maximum sanitation. They’re pre-lubricated and already connected to a urine drainage bag so that you don’t have to touch or manipulate different parts of the system. These are great options for when you’re traveling or need to catheterize in a public place.

If you have any questions regarding the type of catheter that will work best for you, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. Even if you begin using one type of intermittent catheter, you still have options to change later on.

5 Reasons to Never Reuse Intermittent Catheters

Indwelling catheters are internal urinary catheters that are placed inside of the bladder. They’re kept in place until they need to be removed. Indwelling catheters are inserted and removed by a doctor or medical professional. Intermittent catheters are inserted and removed regularly by a doctor, patient, caregiver, or the individual themselves. They’re meant to provide temporary relief and empty your bladder throughout the day. Due to the inherent nature of intermittent catheters, they should not be reused. To give you a better understanding as to why, here are 5 reasons to never reuse intermittent catheters.


  1. Lack of Sterile Cleaning Techniques

    While millions of people have improved their hygiene habits over the last year, we’re not perfect. Hand washing is usually rushed and depending on where we are, we may not have access to sterilizing equipment or clean surfaces. This is a major reason that intermittent catheters should not be reused. If you need to remove a catheter, wash it, sterilize it, and re-insert it, you will need a private bathroom with the proper sterilization equipment in order to do so with minimized risks. The reality is that many people who use intermittent catheters do so on the go and therefore, aren’t in a “sterile environment.” Even if you are in an environment that allows for the proper cleaning, getting both the inside and the outside of the catheter clean enough for reuse will require specialized equipment that would also need to be cleaned after use. The overall logistics simply don’t make sense and aren’t conducive to healthy catheterization.


  2. Bacterial Exposure

    The lack of sterile cleaning techniques and environments would increase the bacterial exposure of an individual reusing intermittent catheters. Even if the proper cleaning techniques are used, the catheter is still exposed for long periods of time and therefore, is susceptible to bacteria collection and proliferation. In fact, during laboratory testing, it was found that even a full antibacterial washing failed to sanitize 67% of the catheters used in the experiment. This is not worth the risk when you put yourself in the vulnerable positions that catheters require. One of the biggest risks for this bacterial exposure is UTIs.


  3. Urinary Tract Infections

    While urinary tract infections are common amongst many individuals with urologic conditions, the rates increase exponentially for those who perform unhygienic intermittent self-catheterization. This is because the bacteria that commonly causes UTIs is more likely to wind up deep inside your urethra when unsafe intermittent self-catheterization techniques are used. When you reuse an intermittent catheter, your risk for a UTI rises exponentially. What’s worse is that due to catheter placement, the UTI-causing bacteria will likely end up at the opening of your bladder, which significantly increases your risk for bladder infections. When left untreated, bladder infections can move to the kidneys and cause severe, long-lasting damage. 


  4. Loss of Coating

    Another reason you shouldn’t reuse intermittent catheters is due to the ongoing loss of coating, especially when using hydrophilic catheters. Hydrophilic catheters have a specific polymer that reacts with water, increasing the degree of comfort during catheter insertion. Once removed, the coating often comes off and therefore, trying to reuse it can be painful. If you were to try to reapply another water-soluble lubricant, you may still have remnants of the hydrophilic waste, which can cause build up and further proliferation of germs.


  5. Lack of Regulated Instructions

Some people are told that it’s safe to reuse intermittent catheters, but that’s far from the truth. Reusing intermittent catheters is dangerous not only due to the lack of sterile cleaning, the risk of bacterial exposure, increased UTI rates, and a loss of coating, but there are currently no regulated instructions regarding the proper way to “reuse” them. The Food and Drug Administration indicates that the regulated user instructions for intermittent catheters apply only once. After that, there’s no scientific way to safely reuse these catheters. They’ll have been exposed to germs and since they’re not meant to be reused, the germs are more likely to proliferate and cause problems. While there are many symbols on the back of a catheter package, none of them even hint at the safety of reuse. If you’re worried about running out of your catheters, order more than you think you’ll need for a given period of time.

This cannot be stressed enough. While there are some intermittent catheters on the market that claim to be reusable, the FDA recommends that intermittent catheters are only used as a single-use device. This is because the risk of infection and a lack of sterile environment is too great to be considered safe for reuse. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your intermittent catheter, always talk to your doctor first. It’s essential that you prioritize your health and wellness, especially if you’re using a catheter during treatment for underlying conditions or post-op recovery.

Intermittent catheterization is beneficial in many situations. It can help reduce symptoms and disturbances from urinary retention, urinary incontinence, surgical healing, and more. Intermittent catheterization helps keep your body functioning its best without putting excess strain on your bladder. If you have any questions about catheterization or other urologic conditions, don’t hesitate to speak to your urologist. Regardless of why you need to use intermittent self-catheterization, getting the proper supplies in a timely, discretionary manner will make your life easier. Byram Healthcare has a range of intermittent catheters to help you manage your conditions and live a happier, healthier life.