What is the role of indwelling urethral catheters in the treatment of urinary incontinence?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
  • Print

Commonly known as Foley catheters, indwelling urethral catheters historically have been the mainstay of treatment for bladder dysfunction. If urethral catheters are being used for a long-term condition, they need to be changed monthly. These catheters may be changed at an office, a clinic, or at home by a visiting nurse. Indwelling use of a Foley catheter in individuals who are homebound requires close supervision by a visiting nurse and additional personal hygiene care.

The standard catheter size for treating urinary retention is 16F or 18F, with a 5-mL balloon filled with 5-10 mL of sterile water. Larger catheters (eg, 22F, 24F) with bigger balloons are used for treating grossly bloody urine found in other urologic conditions or diseases.

Increasing the balloon size to treat a catheter that leaks is not appropriate. Treat leakage around a catheter by eliminating the cause of the leakage. Change or irrigate the catheter if it is blocked. Empty the drainage bag if it is full. Treat any bladder spasms or uninhibited contractions with appropriate anticholinergic medications.

Proper management of indwelling urethral catheters varies somewhat per individual patient. Some type of catheter bag tubing support usually is recommended to prevent inadvertent pressure on the Foley catheter balloon and bladder neck tissue. Adequate slack should be afforded to allow reasonable unimpeded leg motion without stretching the Foley catheter.

The authors also recommend the routine use of a water-soluble surgical lubricant on the catheter where it exits the urethra, especially in males because of the soreness that can be produced there. The lubricant affords significant symptomatic relief.

The usual practice is to change indwelling catheters once every month. The catheter and bag are replaced on a monthly basis; however, catheters that develop encrustations and problems with urine drainage need to be changed more frequently. After more than 2 weeks in the urinary bladder, all indwelling catheters become colonized with bacteria. Bacterial colonization does not mean the patient has a clinical bladder infection.

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!