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A quick guide to different types of catheters

Unless you need to start using a catheter, it is unlikely that you would know much about it. And we know that at first it seems scary, difficult and intimidating, but as soon as you learn the technique, it will become a habit like any other daily routine. 

Start here to sort out the basic concepts and terms! If you want to learn more, we can point you in the right direction.

What is a catheter?

A catheter is a thin tube often made of soft plastic material that can be inserted into the body. Catheters are referred to as medical device, and are prescribed by doctors.

Why is it needed?

A urinary catheter is used to drain the urinary bladder when it cannot be emptied normally. This process is called catheterization and can be necessary after a surgery or during hospitalization.

It is also used as a daily habit for many people with a dysfunctional bladder caused by another diagnosis, like a spinal cord injury, spina bifida, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease, diabetes, stroke or incontinence.

The different types of urinary catheters

Indwelling catheter

An indwelling catheter is a catheter that stays inside the body for a longer period. There are two types of indwelling catheters: a urethral indwelling catheter is a catheter inserted through the urethra into the bladder, while a suprapubic indwelling catheter is inserted through the stomach directly into the bladder. Indwelling catheters are inserted by healthcare professionals and left inside the body for as long as they are needed. For long-term use they are often changed every or every other month.

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Intermittent catheters

An intermittent catheter is inserted into the urethra on demand to empty the bladder, and then removed again as soon as the bladder is empty. Users are taught how to catheterise themselves, and it is a straightforward technique that can be performed by most people.

Even children as young as seven or eight years old can be taught how to catheterise, and by using aids, people with reduced hand function can practice it as well.

Catheterisation is undertaken roughly at the same intervals as you would normally go to the toilet, about 4-6 times a day.
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Non-hydrophilic catheters vs hydrophilic catheters

There are two major types of intermittent urinary catheters: Non-hydrophilic catheters, which are uncoated catheters, and hydrophilic intermittent catheters which are coated with a slippery surface to make insertion and withdrawal easy.

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Which catheter to use?

Intermittent self-catheterisation (ISC) is the preferable method to empty the bladder when you can’t urinate naturally. It is safe in the short, mid and long-term, minimising common risks such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), strictures, bladder stone complications and upper urinary tract deterioration.

Intermittent catheterisation is closest to natural urination, and gives the user control and freedom. For short-term users, intermittent catheterisation gives a faster recovery and return to normal voiding (emptying of the bladder) after surgery.

Of the different types of intermittent catheters, evidence shows that hydrophilic single use catheters are best at reducing the risk of complications, including strictures and UTIs.