How to Properly Care for Your Catheter

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If you are coming home with a catheter that is designed to be left in, it is normal to feel a bit intimidated at first. The instructions that you initially get can be overwhelming. Fortunately, taking care of your catheter feels simpler once you get the hang of it. In this blog, you will learn the basic, but important, concepts of caring for your catheter. 

Keeping it Clean

Keeping your catheter clean will help to prevent infection. You can clean your catheter in the shower or with wet washcloths. Avoid taking baths while you have a catheter, as the bath water can travel up toward your bladder, increasing your risk of infection. To clean your catheter:

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  1. Make sure that your hands are clean by washing them with soap and water prior to handling your catheter.
  2. Wash your genital area with soap and water, wiping front to back for women and towards the tip of the penis for men.
  3. Wash the exposed part of the catheter with soap and water, starting from where the catheter enters the body and cleaning away from the body.

If you are cleaning your catheter in the shower, it is best to have the night collection bag attached instead of the leg bag. If you are wearing the leg bag, keep the bag and connection to the bag outside of the water stream. Keeping your catheter clean will greatly reduce your risk of getting a bladder infection.

Emptying Your Collection Bag Regularly

An important part of caring for your catheter will be ensuring that your collection bag does not become completely full. If the collection bag does become completely full, urine can back up into your bladder and into your kidneys, causing damage to your kidneys and increasing your risk of infection. The good news is that this is easy to avoid. 

The leg collection bags will typically hold the amount of urine that will be produced within 4-8 hours. The large collection bags may hold 1-2 days worth of urine. While this means that you do not have to empty the bags very frequently, you should still be emptying them whenever they are no more than two-thirds full. Emptying the collection bags as needed will help to prevent them from overfilling and the possible problems this can cause.

Protecting it

The catheter can be accidentally pulled or tugged. On the end of your catheter, there is a balloon that is inflated once the catheter has been inserted to keep the catheter inside. If the catheter is pulled or tugged, the balloon inside can cause damage to the inside of your bladder or urinary tract. Using an approved tube-holding device or taping the tubing (not the catheter) to your leg using medical tape can help to ensure the catheter does not get moved.

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Ensuring it is Draining Correctly

If your catheter is working correctly, there should consistently be a small amount of drainage from the catheter. If the catheter stops draining correctly, urine will begin to build up in your bladder, and you may feel discomfort and a need to urinate. If the catheter stops draining for several hours, it can damage your kidneys and lead to other health problems. 

There are two main reasons that your catheter would stop draining correctly. These are:

  • Obstruction - The catheter can become clogged with a substance found in the urine, such as a blood clot, debris, or a small piece of bladder lining. This is only likely to happen if you are having bleeding or if you have a bladder infection. The catheter can also become obstructed if it is kinked. Always check to be sure that the catheter or catheter tubing is not folded back on itself when your catheter seems to have stopped draining.
  • Incorrect position of the drainage bag - For urine to drain from a catheter correctly, it must drain with gravity. If your drainage bag is above or even at the height of the bladder, urine will not drain correctly. If the drainage bag is above the level of your bladder, urine can also go back from the bag into the bladder, increasing the risk of infection. Ensuring that the collection bag is below the bladder will help to prevent infection and help urine to drain correctly.

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If you think that urine may have stopped draining correctly, you can watch the clear tubing to see if any urine is coming out of the catheter. You can also keep an eye on the amount of urine in your collection bag to see if it increases. If urine does not appear to be draining and the catheter tubing is not kinked, you may need to consider calling your primary healthcare provider and asking for advice for your specific situation.

Monitoring Urine Quality

Having a catheter should not change the way your urine looks or smells. If your urine does change, it can indicate that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. There are three main reasons that your urine quality could change:

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  • Dehydration - If you are dehydrated, your urine will change color to be amber or tea-colored. The urine will typically still be clear and may have a stronger smell than normal.
  • Infection - An infection can change your urine color from a light yellow or straw color to a tan color. Infection can also make your urine more cloudy and may cause it to have an unpleasant odor that is different from a normal urine odor.
  • Bleeding - Bleeding in your bladder or urinary tract will change your urine to a pinker color. Light bleeding will add a slightly pinkish tinge, and the heavier the bleeding is, the redder the urine will appear. The urine may also contain blood clots, which will appear as pieces or clumps of dark red in the urine.

If your urine indicates you are dehydrated, then you can compensate by drinking more water and limiting alcohol or caffeine-containing beverages. If you believe you may have an infection or bleeding, you will need to contact your primary healthcare provider or seek medical assistance. Neither bleeding nor infection can typically be taken care of by yourself.

Following up With Medical Professionals

While you have a catheter that stays inside, you will have regular follow-up visits with a healthcare provider. You may have a home care nurse or other types of follow-up, as well. This follow-up care is important, as it allows healthcare professionals to monitor your progress and ensure that there are no complications that are starting. Medical professionals can also help to ensure that your catheter is functioning at its best and will be able to tell when you will need your catheter replaced. Following up with your primary healthcare provider or other healthcare professionals as directed will help to ensure that your catheter is functioning as it should be.

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