What are the disadvantages of Foley catheters for urinary incontinence prevented?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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In spite of its seeming advantages, the use of a Foley catheter for a prolonged period of time (eg, months or years) is strongly discouraged. Long-term dependence on these catheters poses significant health hazards.

Indwelling urethral catheters are a significant cause of UTIs that involve the urethra, bladder, and kidneys. Within 2-4 weeks after catheter insertion, bacteria are present in the bladders of most women. Asymptomatic bacterial colonization is common and does not pose a health hazard. However, untreated symptomatic UTIs may lead to urosepsis and death. The death rate of nursing home residents with urethral catheters has been found to be 3 times higher than for residents without catheters.

Other problems associated with indwelling urethral catheters include encrustation of the catheter, bladder spasms resulting in urinary leakage, hematuria, and urethritis. More severe complications include formation of bladder stones, development of periurethral abscess, renal damage, and urethral erosion.

Another problem of long-term catheterization is bladder contracture, which occurs with urethral catheters as well as suprapubic tubes. Anticholinergic therapy and intermittent clamping of the catheter in combination have been reported to be beneficial for preserving the bladder integrity with long-term catheter use. Individuals who did not use the medication and daily clamping regimen experienced a decrease in bladder capacity and vesicoureteral reflux. For this reason, some physicians recommend using anticholinergic medications with intermittent clamping of the catheter if lower urinary tract reconstruction is anticipated in the future.

Foley catheter clamping is not a benign procedure. Potential risks include cystitis, pyelonephritis, urosepsis, and bladder perforation. Thus, Foley catheter clamping is not commonly employed except in those rare occasions where bladder reconstruction is being contemplated. The clamping should be performed under strict supervision, with monitoring of patient comfort and bladder capacity. Coexisting UTIs must be eradicated prior to proceeding with this endeavor.

The maximum time limit for Foley clamping to expand the bladder capacity should be tailored to the individual but should not exceed 3-4 hours. Patients with small-capacity bladders do not tolerate Foley clamping for more than 1 hour. The Foley catheter should be unclamped immediately if fever, suprapubic pain, obvious bladder distention, leakage around the Foley catheter, or changes in hemodynamics are noted.

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