A catheter is a tube that is inserted into your bladder, usually through the urethra, allowing your urine to drain freely. The catheter tube is attached to a urine drainage bag (a catheter bag), where the urine can be collected.
Some people with urinary problems need catheters permanently, but more often people need them temporarily.
There are different types of catheterisation:
- Intermittent urinary catheterisation: A tube is passed through the urethra to drain the bladder, usually in hospital, for example during surgery.
- Intermittent urinary self-catheterisation: You place the tube yourself every few hours to empty your bladder.
- Indwelling urinary catheterisation: You have a surgical procedure to place the catheter in the bladder. It needs changing every 6 to 12 weeks.
- Suprapubic urinary catheterization: The catheter is inserted into the bladder through a tiny hole in the abdomen. It needs changing every 6 to 12 weeks.
- External catheterisation: A device is placed over the penis to collect urine.
Here is how to deal with problems you might encounter with your catheter.
Catheter has fallen out
If your intermittent urinary catheter has fallen out, it will need to be replaced. Try not to worry as it will not cause any immediate problems. See your doctor as soon as you can.
If you have an indwelling urinary catheter and it falls out, call your doctor or nurse immediately or go to the emergency department.
There is no urine draining
If you have an intermittent catheter, it might get blocked and prevent urine from draining. Try coughing to help start the flow of urine.
Check you have inserted the catheter correctly (in the urethra not the vagina if you are a women, or far enough into the penis if you are a man — there should only be about 10cm of catheter visible).
If you have an indwelling catheter, check there are no kinks in the drainage bag tubing or that the leg bag straps aren’t blocking the flow. Make sure the bag is positioned below your bladder when you are lying, sitting or standing.
If you still can’t get the urine to flow, see your doctor. The catheter may have to be replaced. Use clean towels or pads to keep yourself dry while you wait to see a healthcare professional.
If you have a full bladder or are in discomfort, you will need to go to the emergency department.
Cloudy, offensive urine, blood in urine or abdominal pain
If you have these symptoms, or strong smelling urine, a burning feeling around the catheter, itching, soreness or bleeding, you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI). You may feel generally unwell or have discomfort in your lower back or around the loin.
See your doctor straight away as you may need antibiotics. It’s also a good idea to drink more, unless you have been told not to, to flush bacteria away.
Always see your doctor if you notice any blood in the urine.
General catheter care
- Keep the area where the catheter is inserted clean. You should wash it gently using mild soap. Rinse well and dry thoroughly afterwards.
- Wash your hands before and after touching the area where the catheter is inserted.
- Avoid the use of talcum powder as this may irritate your skin.
- Make sure you keep your bladder and bowel healthy and avoid constipation.
- Drink plenty of water as it will help to flush bacteria from your bladder and urinary tract, unless you have a medical condition which means this is not possible.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your catheter problems, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: December 2019