What is an Indwelling Catheter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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An indwelling catheter is a tube which is inserted into the bladder and left in place in drain urine. There are a number of reasons to use ths type of catheter, ranging from a desire to measure urine output after surgery to an incontinence management plan. The key difference between an indwelling catheter and other types of urinary catheters is that the catheter is meant to be left in place, rather than being used once to drain urine and then removed.

One of the most common types of indwelling catheters is the Foley catheter, a catheter which has a balloon on one end. After the catheter is inserted, the balloon is inflated with sterile saline so that the device will not slip out of the bladder. Some doctors may choose to use another type called a suprapubic catheter, which is inserted directly through the abdominal wall.

As a general rule, this type of catheter can be left in place for one month. The area around the catheter needs to be washed with mild soap on a daily basis, and it is also necessary to flush the catheter with a sterile solution to reduce the risk of infection. Patients wear a catheter bag to collect the urine drained by the catheter, and they are typically encouraged to drink lots of water. The bag is always kept below the level of the catheter, so that urine cannot drain back into the bladder.


Indwelling catheters are used with people who lack the muscle control necessary to manage their bladders, such as people with severe spinal cord injuries. They are also used to monitor urine output, typically post-surgically, and to collect regular urine samples from hospitalized patients, or to drain the bladders of patients who are unconscious. People with severe incontinence may also opt to wear a catheter for greater comfort, and to reduce the chafing and irritation caused by frequent incontinence.

There are some risks and inconveniences involved in wearing an indwelling catheter. It is not uncommon for people to develop urinary tract infections, although this risk can be reduced with attentive care. Men are prone to developing fistulas if the catheter is not worn properly, and some people find that managing the catheter is challenging or frustrating. When worn with a leg bag, for example, the indwelling catheter offers additional freedom of movement, but the wearer still needs to be careful with the device, and routine care of the insertion site is required to prevent infection. Some patients also note that prolonged periods of wear are sometimes associated with a distinctive odor, even with the most attentive and scrupulous care, and some patients find this embarrassing.


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Post 3

It is very, very important to follow all your doctors instructions with long-term indwelling urethral catheters.

Even a short-term catheterization can have complications, and those merely increase with the length of time you wear the catheter.

So listen to your doctor, keep the surrounding area clean, and be sure to be vigilant about symptoms of something gone wrong: leakage, infection, and fistulas are common, and must be addressed quickly.

Post 2

My father had to use an indwelling male catheter for quite some time due to his incontinence.

While I appreciated the medical care and the convenience of the catheter, I have to say that people wearing them really do get a stigma after a while.

There really is nothing you can do about the smell. Like the article says, you can wash all you want, but there's just not much you can do.

So just bear that in mind next time you encounter someone in that situation -- it's really not their fault.

Post 1

One of the most common types of indwelling catheters is an indwelling Foley catheter.

Although Foley catheters are not used solely for long-term indwelling catheters, this is a quite common usage for them.

In the case of a patient needing an intermittent catheter, it is more common to use an external catheter or a coude catheter.

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