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What Is Self-Catheterization?

An external male catheter.
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  • Written By: Von Shanks
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2014
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Self-catheterization is the process of inserting a very small plastic tube through the urethra and into one's own bladder, without help from another person. This allows for straight drainage of urine from the bladder. Catheterization can be used for removal of excess urine, urination monitoring, or collection for testing.

The urethra is a small canal that starts at the urethral opening and connects to the bladder. In males this is an approximately 8-inch (20 cm) canal that runs through the penis and carries both urine and semen. In females it is between the vaginal opening and the clitoris and is approximately 1.5 to 2 inches (3.8 to 5 cm) in length from the urethral opening to the bladder.

Some people have medical issues, such as acute or chronic urinary retention, which do not permit the complete emptying of the bladder via normal urination. Some conditions require a permanent catheter. With others, some patients may have to use self-catheterization at certain intervals during the day to empty the bladder and prevent infections.

Before beginning a self-catheterization, a patient should always wash his hands with soap and water to eliminate germs that could cause an infection. All pieces of the catheterization equipment should also be clean. This procedure can be performed sitting or standing over a commode, in a sitting or slightly reclined position, or in a lying position with a bowl or container in which the draining end of the catheter can be placed.

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Self-catheterization is performed by wiping the area around the urethra with a gentle cleansing cloth. Women should clean the area by wiping from the front toward the anus. The catheter tubing should either be run under water or the tip dipped in a lubricating jelly. Next, the tube should be inserted into the urethra and gently slid up the urethra into the bladder. Men should hold the penis at a 45° angle to straighten the urethra canal.

Urine will begin to flow once the tubing has reached the bladder. Once all the urine has drained, the tube should be slowly removed. If urine starts to drain again while the tubing is being removed, removal should stop until all urine is drained; removal can then be continued slowly.

Self-catheterization should not be performed unless a doctor has prescribed the procedure. Once a doctor tells a patient to perform this procedure, he or she will go over instructions with the patient and show the patient how to safely perform a self-catheterization. The patient should be sure to ask for answers to any questions before beginning the procedure.

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