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What is a catheter?

A catheter is a soft and hollow tube inserted into the bladder. Its purpose is to help the urine drain from the bladder, and a nurse or doctor generally inserts them.

There are two locations to insert a catheter:

  1. Urethral catheters: these catheters are inserted through the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the bladder.
  2. Suprapubic catheter: these catheters are inserted through a small opening made in the lower abdomen.

Catheters also differ based on how long they remain in place. Intermittent catheters are temporarily inserted and then removed once the bladder is empty. In comparison, indwelling catheters stay in place for days or weeks.

Why are catheters used?

A catheter is used in instances where someone has difficulty urinating naturally. In some cases, it may also be used to empty the bladder before performing certain tests or surgery.

Some specific instances in which a catheter may be inserted include:

  • An obstruction in the urethra prevents urine from leaving the body. Examples of obstructions include prostate enlargement or scarring.
  • Draining the bladder before childbirth when given an epidural anesthetic.
  • Aiding urination in those with nerve damage or a bladder weakness that affects the ability to urinate.
  • Draining the bladder before, during, or after surgery.
  • If a patient has urinary incontinence.
  • Delivering medicine directly into the bladder.