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Living with - Urinary catheter

It’s possible to live a normal life with a long-term urinary catheter. But it may take some getting used to at first.

Your doctor or a specialist nurse will tell you how to look after your catheter.

Catheter equipment

The medical staff will give you a supply of catheter equipment when you leave hospital. They will tell you how to empty and change your equipment and where you can get more supplies.

Catheter equipment is usually available on prescription from pharmacies.

Intermittent catheters

Intermittent catheters are usually used once and then thrown away.

How to use them varies from person-to-person. You may need to use them at regular intervals throughout the day, or only when you feel you need to go to the toilet.

Indwelling catheters

Indwelling catheters can either:

  • drain into a bag attached to your leg – this has a tap on the bottom so you can empty it
  • be emptied into the toilet or something suitable using a valve

Empty the bag before it's completely full - around half to three-quarters full.

Use a valve to drain pee at regular intervals during the day. This prevents pee from building up in the bladder.

Change leg bags and valves every 7 days.

You can attach the bag to the leg that is most comfortable for you.

At night, you'll need to attach a larger bag to your leg bag or to the catheter valve. Place it on a stand next to your bed, near the floor, to collect pee as you sleep.

Depending on the type of night bag you have, you may need to thrown it away in the morning or you may need to empty and clean it.

The catheter will need to be removed and replaced at least every 3 months. This is usually done by a doctor or nurse. Sometimes it may be possible to teach you or your carer how to do it.

Preventing infections and other complications

A long-term urinary catheter increases your risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs). It can also lead to other problems, such as blockages.

To reduce these risks you should:

  • wash the skin in the area where the catheter enters your body, use mild soap and water at least twice a day
  • wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after touching the equipment
  • stay well hydrated – you should aim to drink enough fluids so that your urine stays pale
  • avoid constipation – stay hydrated and eat high-fibre foods
  • avoid having kinks in the catheter and make sure any bags are below the level of your bladder at all times

Read more about the risks of urinary catheterisation

Your regular activities

Having a urinary catheter shouldn’t stop you from doing most of your normal activities. You'll be told when it's safe to go to work, exercise, go swimming, go on holidays, and have sex.

If you have an intermittent catheter or a suprapubic catheter, you should be able to have sex as normal.

Indwelling catheters can be more problematic. But it’s still usually possible to have sex. For example, men can fold the catheter along the base of their penis and cover them both with a condom.

In some cases, medical staff will show you how to remove and replace the catheter so you can have sex more easily.

When to get medical advice

Contact your GP or public health nurse (PHN). The hospital or your GP can give you a number for the PHN.

Urgent advice: Talk to your GP or public health nurse (PHN) if:

  • you develop severe or ongoing bladder spasms (similar to stomach cramps)
  • your catheter is blocked, or pee is leaking around the edges
  • your pee has blood in it – you may have pulled on your catheter.
  • you’re passing bright red blood
  • you have symptoms of a UTI, such as lower abdominal pain, a high temperature and chills
  • your catheter falls out – if it’s indwelling and you don't know how to replace it

Go to your emergency department if your catheter falls out and you can’t contact your GP or PHN

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 23 March 2021
Next review due: 23 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.