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Risks - Urinary catheter

A catheter sometimes lets bacteria get into the body. This is the main risk when using a catheter.

This can cause an infection in the:

  • urethra
  • bladder
  • kidneys – this is less common

These types of infections are urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) from catheters

UTIs from using a catheter are common. The risk is very high if your catheter stays in place all the time (an indwelling catheter).

Symptoms of a catheter UTI include:

Talk to your GP if you think you have a UTI. You may need a course of antibiotics.

Other risks and side effects of urinary catheters

Bladder spasms are also common when you have a catheter in your bladder.

The spasms feel like stomach cramps.

The pain is from the bladder trying to squeeze out the balloon.

You may need medication to reduce how often you get spams and how severe they are.

Leakage around the catheter is another problem with indwelling catheters. This can happen from bladder spasms or when you poo.

Leakage can also be a sign that the catheter is blocked. You need to make sure it's draining.

Blood or debris in the catheter tube are also common with an indwelling catheter. This could become a problem if the catheter drainage system becomes blocked.

Urgent advice: Get medical advice immediately if:

  • you think your catheter is blocked
  • you're passing large pieces of debris or blood clots

Other less common problems include:

  • injury to the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) when the catheter is inserted
  • narrowing of the urethra because of scar tissue caused by repeated catheter use
  • injury to the bladder or rectum from inserting the catheter the wrong way
  • bladder stones – these usually only develop after years of using a catheter
  • bladder cancer – for people who have indwelling catheters for years

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.