a doctor inserting a women's catheter

Understanding Women's Catheters

Catheters are small, flexible tubes that are used to drain urine directly from the bladder. They are inserted through the urethra, the hole that allows urine to pass, and into the bladder. For women, catheters are used when conditions cause the leaking of urine, inability to urinate, or when surgery makes the use of a catheter necessary. There are three main types of catheters.

Intermittent Catheter

The first type of catheter is the intermittent catheter. These catheters are inserted when needed, are not permanent, and are only for short term use. Usually, intermittent catheters are used right after surgery. The catheters used are usually disposed of immediately after use. Intermittent catheters can be inserted by a doctor or healthcare professional, by oneself, or by a caretaker. However, if you wish to put the catheter in yourself, you will need to be instructed by a medical professional on how to safely carry out the procedure. Women who use intermittent catheters run the risk of permanently damaging their urethras if the catheter is consistently inserted improperly.

Indwelling Catheter

The second type of catheter is the indwelling catheter. These catheters are left within the bladder and can be used for short or long periods of time. Indwelling catheter procedures are done in a doctor’s office by a healthcare professional. Women with these types of catheters often have permanent damage that leads to little or no bladder control. This can be caused by spinal cord injury, nerve injury in the bladder, or mental conditions that can impair function, such as dementia. Sometimes indwelling catheters are used in women who were unsuccessfully treated for urine leakage or urine blockage or are unable to use intermittent catheters.

External Catheter

The third type of catheter is the external catheter. While these types of catheters have the word “catheter” in the name, external catheters do not actually involve the use of a hollow tube inserted in the body. Instead, external catheters allow urine to come out naturally, and the catheter then funnels this urine away from the body into a special collection bag that is usually strapped to the leg. These types of catheters are less commonly used in women because they are only practical for women put on bed rest or for those who are wheelchair-bound.

Side Effects

The use of female catheters comes with side effects. Women using indwelling or intermittent catheters run a higher risk of developing urinary tract infections, which are caused by bacteria. Women using indwelling catheters for long periods of time also risk kidney damage. Other complications can include damage to the urethra, bladder stones, blood infections, blood in the urine, and kidney infections.

Last Updated: July 25, 2017