5 Things to Understand on How a Catheter Works

A catheter is a thin tube used for a broad range of medical purposes. One of the most common types is the uretic or urinary catheter, which is used to drain urine from the urinary bladder of a man or woman. There are numerous misconceptions about these medical devices — perhaps because they tend to make people a bit squeamish — but they’re rather simple and straightforward and can generally be understood through five basic facts.

1. Catheters Alleviate Urinary Incontinence

The purpose of a catheter is to alleviate the problem of urinary incontinence. Incontinence is a symptom of a situation affecting the bladder. If that problem can be overcome through treatment, then use of the catheter may only be temporary, and sometimes the catheter itself is used to distribute the medicine or other cure. In cases where the root problem cannot be corrected, catheters can be used as a solution to manage it.

2. Not All Catheters Are Inserted

In the introduction, we mentioned that catheters are thin tubes, which is true most of the time, but those aren’t the only kind. Another type is referred to as the Texas or condom catheter. This is a sleeve that fits over the penis and is attached to a tube that collects the urine. Most men would understandably prefer this approach, but it isn’t applicable in all scenarios, and even when it is a viable solution, there are risks that come with prolonged use.

3. Inserted Catheters Do Cause Discomfort

There are two types of inserted catheters. The standard catheter is used for occasional catherization that can be performed by the patient himself or herself. The indwelling Foley catheter is designed for long-term usage and features a balloon, which resides in the bladder. In both cases, insertion of the device does cause discomfort in both men and women. The discomfort is often not as bad as the patient had feared and often goes unnoticed with time.

4. Catheters Are Often Made from Polymers

Catheters are generally manufactured from a medical-grade polymer. Silicone continues to be one of the most common material choices because it doesn’t react to the body and medical fluids and materials that it often will come in contact with. These materials are easily adjusted for various body sizes and types, and allergies to these types of materials are rare.

5. Most Catheters Are Disposable

David S. Sheridan created the modern disposable catheter in the 1940s, and it hasn’t changed much since. Forbes even crowned him the “Catheter King” in a 1988 article. Reuse of catheters brings with it a number of risks, including introducing infection to the body, so disposables are used whenever practical in order to avoid that risk.

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