Male urinary catheters: a complete guide on how to use

In this post we will talk about the male urinary catheter, a common aid that many men use daily to empty their bladder. Even if you’re just a beginner, you don’t need to worry: there are easy solutions on how to handle it in a safe and hygienic way. In this guide we explain all the aspects related to intermittent catheterisation for men and provide answers to your most common questions.


Man smiling at camera

What is a urinary catheter and what is used for?

Urinary catheters are a common aid to empty the bladder. The catheter consists of a flexible small thin tube that allows urine to leave the bladder. Some catheters also provide an integrated bag to collect the evacuated urine. Catheters can be used for many different reasons, both for temporary and long-term use. The most frequent reasons that lead to practicing catheterisation are:

  • Urine retention, that is the difficulty to completely empty the bladder
  • Urinary incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine
  • Surgical interventions
  • Drug therapies

In all cases where the process of evacuating the urine is prevented by a lack of muscle contraction, anatomical and/or functional obstacles of the urethra, long-term catheterisation will be necessary.

How does the bladder work?

The bladder is a bag in which the urine is collected before being evacuated through the urethra, through a several centimetres long passage. A perfectly functioning urinary system allows the body to regulate normal urination, but some circumstances can interrupt this process.

The cause might be a disease or an injury affecting the capacity of emptying the bladder in a normal way, such as a spinal cord injury, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, enlarged prostate or stroke. In these cases, catheterisation can become part of the daily routine.

Types of catheters

Catheters can be divided into 2 categories:

  • Indwelling catheters, that remain located in the bladder for a long time
  • Catheters for Intermittent Catheterisation (IC), used only for the time strictly necessary to empty the bladder

Over the years, indwelling catheters have become a less used solution and are usually recommended only in particular cases, like when the patient has difficulty to collaborate due to severe enfeeblement.

Instead, Intermittent Catheterisation has become more popular: it allows emptying of the bladder at regular intervals several times per day and helps to prevent complications and infections of the upper urinary tract – and all this thanks to increasingly innovative solutions that guarantee hygiene, safety and ease of use.

Nowadays you can easily find complete kits that help you practice catheterisation in complete safety. These kits include hydrophilic catheters with an integrated bag to collect the urine, a small container with sterile water and a sheath to be able to carry out the procedure without touching the catheter with the hands.

These solutions make it easy to practice catheterisation in every situation: in bed, in the wheelchair, but also outside the home, for example at the workplace or while traveling. Thanks to these solutions, it is possible for people to regain full autonomy without having to give up peace of mind, safety and hygiene. With, as a consequence, a significant improvement of quality of life at a social, relational and professional level.

What is an indwelling catheter or permanent catheter?

Foley catheters are generally used for indwelling catheterisation. At one end they have a balloon that is inflated inside the bladder to avoid slipping out and at the other end they have 2 openings (2-way catheter), one to inflate the balloon and the second to eliminate the urine. Some cases have an additional opening (3-way catheter) for bladder irrigation. The opening for urine drainage is connected to a collecting bag, usually attached to the leg, and always below bladder level to facilitate the flow. This bag must be regularly emptied when it gets full. Alternatively, to the fixed catheter with the bag, it is possible to choose a suprapubic catheter, that is inserted in the bladder through the abdominal wall. All indwelling catheters require healthcare professionals for assistance, as the procedures to insert and extract them periodically requires specific skills.

What is a catheter for Intermittent Catheterisation (IC)?

Hydrophilic catheters are characterised by the presence of a coating linked to the structure of the surface. This substance – which is an integral and constituent part of the surface layer of the catheter – is hydrophilic and thereby absorbs and binds the water molecules, which causes the surface of the catheter to become smooth and slippery.

Since the process is easier than indwelling catheterisation, it can be learned with a simple training that facilitates the practice of self-catheterisation. In fact, people who use these types of intermittent catheters can empty their bladder autonomously. This kind of catheterisation guarantees independence, reduces the risks of infections and other complications - which is the reason why it is becoming more in use.

How to use a urinary catheter?

The most adequate procedure is explained by healthcare professionals during the training period and depends on the type of catheter used. Therefore, it is always important to rely on the competence of the professional for any clarification.

In all cases it is recommended to practice catheterization on a regular basis following the medical prescription. Certain amounts of residues in the bladder can cause different complications.

For more information you can download our PDF guide "Bladder management and intermittent catheterisation for men" by pressing the button below. 

View Bladder management and intermittent catheterisation for men PDF guide

Recommendations for the correct use of the intermittent catheter

To ensure your wellbeing while practicing catheterisation it is advisable to follow some simple recommendations:

  • A proper hand- and intimate hygiene are fundamental to prevent possible bacterial infections, called urinary tract infections (UTIs). As other infections, if not treated in time they can cause complications.
  • Drinking is important: our body needs to take 1,5-2 liters of liquid per day. This fluid travels into the bladder and reduces the risk of infections.
  • Completely empty the bladder several times a day, the regular emptying of the bladder helps to prevent catheter associated urinary tract infection and possible kidney damage.

Minimising the risk of infections and incontinence helps to enjoy a peaceful life and regain control of daily routines: it reduces the frequency of visits to the toilet and avoids unnecessary worries about urine smells or wet clothes.

Frequently asked questions about male catheters

Catheterisation can give rise to some hesitation and concern; therefore, at Wellspect, we have decided to collect some of the most common questions and do our best to answer them.

  • Does a catheter hurt?

    If practiced correctly, catheterisation does not hurt. However, especially at the beginning you may feel some sort of discomfort. As you become more confident, this sensation disappears. A hydrophilic self-lubricating catheter guarantees maximum comfort and diminishes friction.
  • Is using a catheter difficult?

    When learning to practice self-catheterisation, you may find some difficulties, but with some practice and habit it becomes part of the daily routines, a bit like brushing your teeth.
  • Do you need a lot of time to learn catheterisation?

    Especially in the learning phase, you may get the feeling that it is a rather long activity, however with practice, and by gaining confidence, the time needed becomes shorter and shorter. For expert users it takes little more than a natural visit to the toilet. And the frequency remains more or less the same, in other words about 4-6 times per day.
  • Can intermittent catheters be reused?

    No, they are single-use devices and that is the reason why they need to be used and disposed. To avoid the risk of infections they must be used only once.
  • Can I use a catheter when I am not at home?

    When you are at your friend’s or in a public toilet, many people are worried about their own privacy. But in these cases, it is possible to use discreet catheters. It can be useful to take with you a small plastic bag if you want to dispose the catheter discretely. There are packages in the market available explicitly to meet this need.
  • Can I travel with a catheter?

    Long trips, specially by airplane, can cause concern, since at a certain point you need to empty your bladder. Before travelling you can contact your doctor to choose which is the most suitable solution for your trip, knowing that there are specific solutions available designed for special needs of this kind. Remember to always carry with you the number of catheters needed for your entire trip. It may be complicated to get them in your destination country. Also keep some catheters in your hand baggage just in case. For security controls at the airport, you can use the LoFric Travel Certificate.

The content of this post is only for informative purposes and it is not intended for product promotion or diagnosis. For further information, Wellspect strongly recommends consulting a healthcare specialist that can answer your questions and knows what is available in your local market.

For reference: Mauro Menarini, Judit Timar, Blue Book. 201 risposte alla mielolesione, Mirano, La Colonna Onlus, 2016 (p 58).

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