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Treating a catheter infection is fairly straightforward once the bacteria causing the infection are identified. These types of infections are common when a catheter is in place, especially if it is long-term. Typically, an infection is not treated unless the patient presents with symptoms, and then it is treated with a variety of antibiotics, depending on what type of bacteria are present.
More than one type of bacteria can be causing the problem, so a sample of urine is taken and tested to determine the correct antibiotic to give. To help flush the bacteria from the bladder, fluids should be increased to promote frequent urination. People with an indwelling catheter, meaning a catheter left inside the body for drainage of urine, can have bacteria in the urine and no symptoms. These patients are normally not treated for infection.
Symptoms of a catheter infection include cloudy urine, bad odor, leakage around the catheter and fever. Notably, elderly people with an indwelling catheter may experience mental confusion as the only indication of an infection. Fatigue, chills, and vomiting may also occur.
Although a catheter infection is particularly possible when a catheter is placed inside for a long period of time, there are a few preventative measures that can be taken to decrease the risk. Experts advise that preventative measures can be largely unsuccessful. Catheters should be changed once a month and the catheter bag emptied at least every eight hours. The catheter drainage bag needs to be kept at a level below the bladder in order to prevent urine backup, and good hygiene is imperative.
Other preventative measures can include restriction of fluids that can irritate the bladder, like citrus juice, alcohol, and caffeine. Cranberry juice is thought to help prevent a catheter infection or a urinary tract infection. Preventative antibiotics are discouraged—since an infection can be caused by so many different organisms, it can’t be predicted which antibiotic is needed. Additionally, preventative antibiotics are thought to promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
For those dealing with catheters, whether short- or long-term, good handwashing practices are a must. Sterile techniques must be followed when changing or inserting a catheter to reduce the risk of catheter infection. Vigilant attention is necessary to identify the symptoms of an infection and the immediate steps to take. An untreated, symptomatic catheter infection can lead to more serious problems, such as a kidney infection.
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