What is a Balloon Catheter?

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  • Written By: Lori Smith
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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A balloon catheter is a soft, flexible rubber tube that can be used in a number of medical procedures. Its purpose is to gently expand narrow cavities in the body, so that a procedure can be performed. Once a deflated balloon catheter is inserted into the narrow passage, the tip is inflated to open the area. When the procedure is complete, it is then deflated and removed. The two most common procedures that rely on the balloon catheter are coronary angioplasty and urinary catheterization.

This device has been used since it was first patented in 1963. It was invented in the U.S., by Stanford University professor, Thomas Fogarty. The balloon catheter is considered the industry standard for certain medical procedures because of its ease of use, and the minimal risks of complication associated with it.

Coronary angioplasty is a common procedure performed using a balloon catheter. This is often done when plaque build-up clogs an artery that leads to the heart. A cardiologist typically uses the device to widen artery walls that are blocked by this plaque.

During this operation, the surgeon inserts a deflated balloon catheter into the artery where the blockage has occurred. When it is inflated, the end of the catheter basically pushes the plaque to the outer edge of the artery to allow blood flow to the heart. This surgery is relatively safe and risk is minimal. Less than 1% of coronary angioplasty patients suffer from complications directly related to the balloon catheter.


A Foley catheter is usually used in the bladder to collect and drain urine. This type of balloon catheter is commonly used during and after surgical procedures. It is also often utilized to correct other medical problems, such as urethra obstruction, nerve-related bladder dysfunction, and other urinary tract disorders.

These devices are generally designed for long-term use. To use one, the Foley catheter is inserted through the urethra and into the bladder. A syringe then fills the tip of it with air or sterile water to keep it in place — like a small water balloon at the end of a hollow, thin tube. The Foley catheter then deposits the collected urine into a bag.

Urine output can then be measured and analyzed to check for infection, blood and electrolyte content, or overall kidney function. Urinary tract infections, which are typically fairly easy to treat with antibiotics, are one of the most common risks associated with urinary catheterization.


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Post 7
@andee - I can certainly understand how you felt. I kept having frequent urinary tract infections so had to have a balloon catheter.

They told me it wasn't a big deal, but they didn't know how much of a wimp I am when it comes to that kind of thing.

They ended up giving me a stress ball to use to help take my mind off what they were doing. I don't know if that stress ball was ever the same after I got done using it.

Post 6

One of the most uncomfortable medical procedures I had done was when they used a balloon catheter when I was having some kidney tests done.

This was done in the doctor's office with no anesthesia or pain killer. I don't have a very high pain tolerance, and I hope I never have to have this done again.

If I was under some kind of anesthesia it wouldn't have been so bad. The only thing I can say is it didn't last very long. I had a doctor who had done many of these, so he was skilled and quick.

Post 5

My dad had an angioplasty balloon catheter many years ago because of clogged arteries. Even though this sounds kind of scary and complicated, it is a very common procedure.

There are risks with every type of surgery, but this is much better than having a major surgery done. Since he had this surgery, he has made a lot of changes in his diet and lifestyle.

He was pretty overweight and having this done, really made him make some positive changes. The recovery time after the procedure wasn't bad, and he started working on losing weight and eating much healthier.

Post 4

@StarJo – A lot of people who have a coronary angioplasty also get a stent placed in their artery afterward. This is used to keep the artery open and prevent future clogging.

My aunt had a clogged artery in her leg. To prevent a blood clot, the doctor sent a balloon catheter through her artery and inserted a stent, too. I think this is just an extra precautionary measure, but it has probably saved a lot of lives.

I don't think there is any way for a doctor to remove the plaque, so using a balloon to mash it against the walls is the best option. It was a pretty cool idea.

Post 3

My grandfather had to have a coronary angioplasty last year. His arteries were badly clogged, and something needed to be done quickly.

I was impressed to learn that something as simple as a little balloon could prevent a heart attack or stroke. Whoever thought up the balloon catheter for clearing arteries is a genius, in my opinion.

I just wonder one thing. If all that plaque is pressed up against your artery walls by the balloon, does this not make it easier for additional plaque to accumulate in the future? Since the junk isn't actually removed, it looks like it could still pose a threat.

Post 2

@Oceana – The balloon is simply for keeping the catheter from slipping out of the bladder. The tube has another end diverting off of it with a hole for collecting urine.

My aunt had to have bladder surgery after a car accident, and she had to have a Foley catheter for a few weeks. The good thing is that they can be left in your bladder for awhile, so you don't have to keep changing them and going through all that discomfort.

To avoid getting a urinary tract infection while the balloon catheter was inside of her, she drank a glass of cranberry juice every day. Surprisingly, it worked.

Post 1

I'm a little confused about the Foley catheter balloon. How can a balloon collect urine?

Does it have permeable walls or something? I just have a mental image of a little balloon hooked up to a tube, slowly soaking up urine. I have a feeling this is an incorrect assumption.

I hope I never have to have one, but I am curious, just in case. Unfortunately, urinary trouble does run in my family, and I would like to know what my options may be some day down the line.

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