What is the role of intermittent catheterization in urinary incontinence treatment?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Intermittent catheterization, or self-catheterization, is a mode of draining the bladder at timed intervals, as opposed to continuous bladder drainage. Of all 3 possible options (ie, urethral catheter, suprapubic tube, intermittent catheterization), intermittent catheterization is the best solution for bladder decompression of a motivated individual who is not physically handicapped or mentally impaired.

Intermittent catheterization is most appropriate for patients with detrusor hyperreflexia and functional obstruction. Many of these patients have detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia and are at risk for pyelonephritis and upper tract injury.

Some patients with urge incontinence and coexisting hypofunctioning detrusors may benefit from self-catheterization. For example, some diabetic patients with bladder neuropathy may have instability requiring bladder-relaxing pharmacotherapy but, at the same time, may have intermittent detrusor hypofunctioning with poor emptying. The addition of bladder-relaxing drugs may worsen the baseline poor detrusor function, resulting in retention and overflow incontinence. In some cases, the solution may be to combine bladder-relaxing medical therapy with intermittent self-catheterization.

The ability of patients to use their hands and arms is usually a prerequisite for self-catheterization. However, in a situation in which the patient is physically or mentally impaired, a caregiver or health professional can perform intermittent catheterization for the impaired individual.

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