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What Are External Catheters?

What Are External Catheters?

This image shows male external catheters.

Often when people think about catheters, traditional catheters that are inserted into the urethra for bladder drainage come to mind. But, there are actually external catheter options that don’t require internal insertion. At times, external catheters are an option that even works better for some patients than insertable methods. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look into external catheters, how they are used, and what their unique benefits can be. 


What Are External Catheters?

External catheters, or external urinary catheters (EUC) are different than traditional catheters in that they are not inserted into the urethra. Instead, this catheter style uses tubing and gravity to empty urine from the bladder and into a drainage bag.

There are several different types of external catheters, including different options for men and women, and they are generally made of silicone or latex. While there a lot of options for men in this catheter category, there are not generally as many options available for women.

What Are the Benefits of Using These Catheters?

Many health experts recommend using external catheters as an alternative option when medically possible. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated in 2009 that clinicians, “consider using external catheters as an alternative to an indwelling urinary catheter (IUC) in cooperative male patients without urine retention or bladder outlet obstruction.”

But, what are the benefits to using external catheters specifically? Here are some commonly reported examples: 

  • Comfort: Many patients report that external catheters are more comfortable to use. 
  • Safety: Due to this type of catheter not being inserted into the bladder internally, there are less reported risks of UTIs.
  • Non-Invasive: This type of catheter is non-invasive, which is often preferred by users and medical professionals. 
  • Independent Support: External catheters can often be more easily placed by cath users, which supports a more independent lifestyle. 

Who Can Use External Catheters?

Not everyone is a good candidate for external catheter usage, and not every medical condition warrants the use of external catheters. Some of the most common medical conditions in which external catheters are sometimes used include: 

  • Mobility issues that make regular bathroom access difficult.
  • Urinary incontinence that prevent patience from controlling urine output from their bladder.
  • Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, or other cognitive impairments or diseases that make urine control difficult.
  • Overactive bladder (OAB) situations can lead to sudden and incontrollable urges to urinate.
  • Collection and monitoring of urine output by healthcare providers. 

It’s important that you discuss with your doctor or healthcare provider if external catheters are right for you. But, it’s not generally recommended that this catheter style is used for the following medical conditions:

  • Urinary retention, preventing the full emptying of a patient’s bladder
  • Bladder stones and urethral blockages that restrict or slow down the flow of urine
  • Situations of neurogenic bladder that prevent the full emptying of the bladder due to conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Image showing a gloved hand holding a male catheter, or external catheter.

Find out which external catheter is right for you. Complete the form below.

What are Male External Catheters?

Male external catheters, also referred to as condom catheters, are generally comprised out of silicone rubber or latex so that there are material options for those who may be allergic to one or the other. Condom catheters are placed over the shaft of the penis and connected to a catheter tube that leads to a drainage bag below the bladder for urine collection. 

External catheters for males come in a variety of sizes to fit different anatomical needs. To find the correct size, the circumference of the head of the penis is measured and then divided by 3.14. The end resulting number from this calculation will allow healthcare providers and catheter users to correctly choose the size they need in accordance with the individual sizing guide provided by the catheter manufacturer. 

What Are Female External Catheters?

There are not as many female catheter options available, but many healthcare providers and patients prefer this form of catheter due to its non invasiveness. Female catheters are generally made of soft and flexible materials and placed in between the labia and buttocks. Gravity assists this type of external catheter by pulling urine through the catheter tube and into a collection device for disposal. There are not usually different sizes available for female external catheters; instead, they tend to be “one size fits all.”

Are there Risks or Disadvantages to Using this Type of Catheter?

While there are definitely some great benefits that come with external catheter usage, there are also some negative aspects that should be considered. Below are some of the risks or disadvantages to using external catheters that healthcare providers and catheter users should consider when making their decision:

  • There is some risk of skin breakdown or irritation due to friction of the catheter against the skin.
  • There is an increased risk of leakage, especially of not sized correctly.
  • Adhesive used can cause allergic reactions in some patients.
  • Can sometimes be too easily removed, which can present an issue for patients with cognitive impairments.
  • Can fall off if not properly sized.
This type of catheter often has less bacterial risk than insertable catheters. However, it’s important that you watch for the following warning signs and contact your physician right away should any of them present:
  • Fever
  • Foreskin swelling, which can indicate allergy
  • Pain during or after use
  • Skin irritation or skin breakdown that is severe
  • Abdominal or urethral pain
  • Reduced urine output
  • Cloudy urine, urine that has a strong smell, or urine with blood in it
Man sitting in a wheelchair next to a lake. External catheters can be great aids to independence.

How Active Life Can Help with External Catheters

When it’s determined by your healthcare provider that you require the use of external catheters for proper bladder drainage, they will also be able to help you determine the size that best works for your needs. Then, our catheter experts here at Active Life Medical are standing by to help coordinate your supplies. We will handle everything from start to finish, including coordinating all paperwork from your physician, billing your health insurance directly, and ensuring your external catheter supplies are delivered to your door quickly, safely, and discreetly. Give us a call today at 800-319-2336 and get started with your external catheter supplies.

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