What is a French Catheter?

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  • Written By: Lucinda Reynolds
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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A French catheter is a small rubber tube that is inserted into the urethra to drain urine from the bladder. This catheter can be left in place or immediately removed after the bladder is drained. If the catheter is left in place it will be attached to a drainage bag to catch the urine. French catheters are used mainly in a health care setting by qualified personnel.

The reason they are called French catheters is because they use the French catheter scale to determine the diameter size. This scale can be confusing to some individuals. A size in French units is roughly comparable to the circumference of a catheter in millimeters. The average catheter size used for adults is 16 French (5.3 mm or 0.210 inches) or 18 French (6 mm or 0.236 inches).

When a health care professional is inserting a French catheter into an individual it is important that a sterile technique be followed to prevent infection. In most cases, these French catheters come in a sterile kit that contains everything that is needed for an insertion. These kits will contain sterile gloves, lubricant, a sterile cleansing product, a pre-filled syringe, and the sterile French catheter.


Once the catheter is inserted it is held in place by inflating a balloon that is attached to the end of the catheter that is in the bladder. This balloon is inflated by injecting sterile water into a port that is attached to the side of the catheter tubing. The balloon can hold anywhere from five cubic centimeters (0.169 ounces) of water to 30 cubic centimeters (1.01 ounces) of water.

There are risks associated with the insertion of a French catheter. The biggest risk is a urinary tract infection. When a catheter is inserted it can carry germs into the bladder from the environment. A urinary tract infection can be serious for some individuals. Sometimes this infection can navigate to the blood stream and cause the individual to become very ill even to the point of death.

Another risk associated with a French catheter is an allergic reaction to the latex rubber the catheter if made of. Many people have allergies to latex and may not be aware of it. When a catheter is inserted into an individual with this allergy, the patient can develop a rash and swelling. The catheter should be removed and treatment for an allergic reaction started immediately.


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Post 3

I've heard the French designation placed prior to the integer, as in "French 14" catheter. What, if any, is the basis for the correct usage?

Post 2

@Engelbert - Yes, it is used worldwide except in French speaking countries they call it Charrière, after the creator of the French catheter scale. He was a Parisian man, of course, who made surgical instruments in the 19th century. I guess the rest of the doctors of the world just got lazy.

Post 1

So is the French catheter scale used worldwide?

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