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Urinary catheters are a commonly used medical device in hospitals, nursing homes, and privately at home by individuals every day. Catheters are so common, in fact, that over 1.5 million of them are used every single day.

As common as the use of this medical device is, however, catheter basics are not common knowledge. Because this common medical device is integral to supporting essential bladder functions, it’s important to know the basics.

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What Are Urinary Catheters?

So, what are urinary catheters exactly? While catheters fluctuate in design, at their core they are hollow, flexible tubes that direct urine from the bladder to a collection device or toilet for disposal.

Catheters are generally comprised of one or more of the following materials:

  • PVC plastic
  • Rubber
  • Silicone

While the medical conditions leading to the need for catheter usage can greatly vary, these medical devices are used to take care of one of three diagnoses:

  • Urinary Retention
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Uncontrollable Bladder

These urinary diagnoses can be both temporary or long term and can often result due to conditions such as:

  • Surgery
  • Labor
  • Bladder nerve injury
  • Prostate gland enlargement
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Spina bifida
  • Dementia
  • Impaired mental function
  • Hysterectomy
  • Hip fracture
  • Kidney stones
  • Blood clots in urine
  • Certain medications
Different urinary catheters, including coude catheters, shown here.

Catheter Types

Intermittent Catheters: Intermittent catheters, also called “in and out” catheters, are one of the original styles of catheters and still one of the most commonly prescribed. This catheter type connects to a separate drainage bag for urine collection; this drainage bag can then be disposed of or emptied into the toilet. Both ambulatory and non-ambulatory patients use intermittent catheters, which are generally easy to place and drain.

Foley Catheters: An indwelling catheter, or Foley catheter, is placed inside a patient’s bladder and left there for long periods of time. This type of catheter is usually placed by a nurse or doctor through the urethra or in an abdominal incision. A balloon at the end of the catheter is filled with water and will deflate when it’s time for the catheter to be remove. Foley catheters are most often use for patient’s who cannot cath themselves.

Closed System Catheters: Many patients prefer closed system catheters due to their convenience and enhanced sanitary use. In a closed system kit, the catheter is pre-connected to a urine collection bag and the catheter is pre-lubricated. This system makes it easy to cath any where, any time while doing so safely and with less chance of contamination.

External Catheters: Female urethral inserts and condom catheters are both examples of external catheters; this type of catheter is placed outside of the body for use. Condom catheters are fitted over the head of the penis and connected to a tube that drains into a collection bag. Female urethral catheters are generally custom fitted and go into the urethra near the end of the bladder to create a seal.

Hydrophilic Catheters: Hydrophilic catheters have a hydrophilic coating that, when activated by water, will lubricate the catheter for easy placement. Some hydrophilic catheters are already activated and in self-contained packaging. Many patients prefer this type of catheter due to the ease-of-use and the reduction in contamination possibility with pre-lubrication.

French size chart for catheters for men

Catheter Sizes

There is no “one size fits all” solution for catheters due to every patient having unique anatomical differences. For this reason, there is a catheter sizing system called French sizes. The French size of a catheter indicates the tubing size. Catheter tubing sizes are measure in millimeters.

To figure out what the French size of a catheter tube is, the millimeter diameter size of a catheter is multiplied by 3. For instance, if a catheter has a millimeter size of 4, then this would be multiplied by 3 which would give you a French size of 12.

You can see the full sizing chart above. The colors indicated correspond with the funnel attachments used. It’s important that catheter tubing is sized appropriately; this can be done by your physician, urologist, or a healthcare professional. If tubing is sized too small or too large, this can mean that the urine either may not drain fast enough or can cause pain for the user.

Catheter Insertion Tips

Choosing the right insertion tip is important for both men and women when using urinary catheters; this is because anatomies differ and not everyone has the same urethral openings. There are two main catheter tips used with catheters:

Coudé Tip: Coudé tips are bent or curved on the end. This type of catheter tip works well for patients who have certain medical conditions, such as certain cancers, or a urethral blockage. This type of catheter tip is used in women, but most often used for men.

Straight Tip: Straight tips allow for comfortable insertion for most patients and have no curve or bend at the end.

Potential Catheter Complications

When placed properly and correct sanitation precautions are taken, catheters are generally safe and comfortable to use. It’s important for those who self cath that proper training is given by their doctor, urologist, or healthcare provider to ensure correct cathing procedures. That being said, it’s also essential that catheter users are familiar with the signs of potential complications.

At the first sign of any of the following symptoms, it’s important that a healthcare professional is consulted with right away:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Pain
  • Skin sores or lesions around the catheter
  • Bleeding around or inside the catheter
  • Recurring bladder spasms
  • Sediment inside the catheter bag
  • Urethral swelling
  • Strong smelling, thick, or cloudy urine
  • Too little urine output
  • Urine leakage around the site of the catheter

If left untreated, or due to individual severity, complications can occur such as:

  • Bladder stones
  • Injury to your urethra
  • Kidney infections
  • Blood infections
  • Kidney damage
  • Bladder cancer
  • Blood in the urine

Why Active Life Medical Is the Right Choice for Catheters

When you’re prescribed catheters, it’s essential that you get the right products quickly, easily, and covered by your insurance. The last thing you want to deal with is the hassle of going back and forth with your insurance company or simply not getting the catheters you need, when you need them. You want to deal with a medical provider that you can trust and who understands your unique needs; a provider who can help you navigate your insurance to get the right catheter supplies delivered conveniently and discreetly right to your doorstep. This is where providers like Active Life Medical come in and why more people are choosing us for their urinary catheter needs.

You’re in good hands with Active Life Medical. Our staff of knowledgeable customer service representatives are highly trained and here to help you get the catheters you need covered by your insurance. Our representatives will work to make the process of getting your catheters delivered to you quickly and affordably. We’ll guide you through the process from A-to-Z, including:

  • Coordinating with your doctors and healthcare providers to gather the necessary paperwork needed for your catheters
  • Finding the right catheter that meets your prescribed medical needs
  • Billing your urinary catheter supply directly to your insurance and handling all of the paperwork
  • Expertly answering any questions you have pertaining to catheters or the insurance process
  • Delivering straight to your door quickly and discreetly

We have one of the largest catheter selections of any medical supplier and work with all of the top brands you know, meaning you’ll only get quality catheters when you’re with Active Life Medical. Plus, when prescribed by a medical professional and deemed medically necessary, catheters can be covered at no cost to you by Medicare, Medicaid, and most healthcare insurances nationwide.

Active Life Medical’s team of customer service experts are standing by to help get you the catheters you need at little to no cost to you. Let us help. Give us a call at 800-319-2336 today so we can help get the process started.

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