Insertion Of Urinary Catheter – Patient Guide On What To Expect

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There may come a time when you or a loved one may require a urinary catheter to be placed in the urinary bladder.

The need for this may arise from a blocked urine tube or an enlarged prostate (in men).

I thought I would briefly discuss what the procedure entails.

What Is A Urinary Catheter?

A urinary catheter is a thin, flexible tube that’s inserted into the bladder to help drain urine when a person is unable to do so on their own. This can be due to medical conditions, surgery, or other temporary situations.

The process is generally simple and safe, but it’s important to understand how it’s done.

Why Is A Urinary Catheter Inserted?

A urinary catheter is inserted for various reasons when a person is unable to empty their bladder on their own or when precise measurement of urine output is necessary. Some common reasons for using a urinary catheter include:

Surgical procedures: Catheters are often used during and after surgeries that involve the urinary tract or when a patient is under anesthesia and unable to control their bladder.

Urinary retention: This occurs when someone is unable to empty their bladder completely or at all, due to a blockage, nerve damage, or other medical conditions. A catheter can help drain the urine and relieve the pressure on the bladder.

Urinary incontinence: In some cases, a person may be unable to control their bladder, leading to involuntary urine leakage. A catheter can help manage this condition by collecting urine in a bag, providing comfort and cleanliness.

Monitoring urine output: In critical medical situations or for patients in intensive care units, it is necessary to monitor urine output closely to assess kidney function and fluid balance. A catheter allows healthcare providers to measure the output accurately.

Spinal cord injuries or neurological disorders: Patients with spinal cord injuries or certain neurological disorders may lose the ability to control their bladder function. A catheter can be a helpful tool in managing bladder care.

Prostate enlargement: Men with enlarged prostates may experience difficulty urinating due to the pressure on the urethra. A catheter can help relieve this pressure and allow the bladder to drain properly.

End-of-life care: In some cases, catheters are used for patients receiving palliative or hospice care to provide comfort and maintain hygiene when bladder control is limited.

How Is A Catheter Inserted?

Let’s look at it step by step.


The patient will be asked to lie down on their back, with their legs slightly apart. The area around the genitals will be cleaned with a mild antiseptic solution to reduce the risk of infection.


The catheter tube will be coated with a sterile lubricant to make insertion more comfortable and reduce friction.


The procedure is slightly different in males and females.

For males: The doctor or nurse will gently insert the lubricated catheter into the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) at the tip of the penis. They will slowly push the catheter through the urethra and into the bladder.

For females: The doctor or nurse will gently separate the labia to locate the urethral opening, which is located above the vaginal opening. The lubricated catheter will be carefully inserted into the urethra and guided into the bladder.

Once the catheter is in place, a small amount of water will be injected through a side tube to fill a balloon at the tip of the catheter. This balloon prevents the catheter from coming out.

Not all catheters have this balloon. The most commonly used catheter is the Foley catheter, which has this balloon.

Urine Flow

Once the catheter is in the bladder, urine should start to flow through the tube and into a collection bag. The doctor or nurse may need to adjust the catheter’s position slightly to ensure proper flow.

Securing The Catheter

The catheter will be taped or secured to the patient’s leg to prevent it from being accidentally pulled out. The collection bag will be attached to the bed or placed in a location where it can hang freely.


The catheter will be removed when it is no longer needed. This is usually a simple process that involves deflating the small balloon (if a Foley catheter was used) and gently pulling the catheter out.


Generally placing a urinary catheter is a very safe procedure. The chances of any complications are rare.

Despite every care being taken, some patients may sustain an injury to the urine pipe when it is inserted. This is particularly common if there is a narrowing in the urinary tube. A small amount of blood may come out with the urine. This usually stops within 24 to 48 hours. If it continues, then your doctor may decide to look into why it is continuing.

If a catheter is placed in for too long a duration, there is a risk of it getting infected.

Patients with dementia or confusion may accidentally pull the catheter, causing trauma and bleeding.

It’s essential to follow your doctor or nurse’s instructions on how to care for your urinary catheter and to watch for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or foul-smelling discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms or have other concerns, contact them promptly.

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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