Living with an indwelling urinary catheter

A lot of people live their lives with an indwelling urinary catheter to effectively drain urine from their bladder. And even though living with an indwelling urinary catheter long-term sound super scary and overwhelming to begin with, it’s entirely possible to live a perfectly happy and normal life with a catheter inserted. However, it might take a while for you to get used to catheter life, so don’t be disappointed if it’s not all smooth sailing and positive to begin with. But let’s take a bit of a look at what you can expect from living with a catheter

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How does urine drain with a catheter?

Both suprapubic and urethral catheters will be connected to a leg bag that collects all the urine your catheter drains. Whether you want to wear your leg bag on your thigh or on your calf is totally up to you. Just always make sure that you’re wearing it lower than your bladder as, otherwise, you’ll risk urine not draining from your bladder or flowing back into your bladder which can cause urinary tract infections. To ensure that your leg bag is secured properly and doesn’t move you can either use specially designed leg bag straps or a leg bag sleeve. Whatever takes your fancy!

It might take a while for you to find the perfect leg bag for your individual requirements. Why? Because they come with different taps, tube lengths, and volumes, so you can pick and choose which ones work best for you in different life situations. What do we mean by that? Well, if you’re out for a run, you might want to use a smaller bag whereas for a longer car journey you might find a larger volume more helpful.

You don’t even need to do much with your leg bag while your catheter is draining urine, either! You just need to make sure that it’s emptied regularly. But that’s super easy! You just have to switch the tap at the bottom of your leg bag from to open and, voila, your leg bag is emptying. The general recommendation is that you empty it when it’s about 2/3 full but if your nurse or doctor have told you something different, always go with their advice!

Are there alternatives to leg bags?

Absolutely! Catheter valves are a great replacement for a leg bag. They’re a little valve that you can directly attach to your catheter without having to attach a bag as well. How do they work? If you have your catheter valve closed, your bladder will slowly fill as it used to and once you feel like your bladder is full, you can simply open the tap of your catheter valve to empty it. Unlike leg bags, a catheter valve is really small and super discreet which comes in especially handy if you’re out for a little dip at the local pool. However, as with most things in life, a catheter valve isn’t an option for everybody as you will need to have a certain bladder tone and capacity in order for it to work. That’s why it’s super important that you get assessed by a nurse or doctor before you’re attempting to replace your leg bag with a catheter valve.

Here’s what you can do overnight

If you don’t want to get up in the middle of the night to empty your leg bag, you might want to consider a larger overnight drainage bag. These usually come with a volume of 2 litres and are big enough to collect all the urine your catheter drains over night without you having to worry about it. The overnight bag can either be connected directly to your catheter or to your leg bag. Just make sure that the tap of your leg bag is open if you attach it! It’s also super important that you keep your overnight drainage bag lower than your bladder to avoid urine flowing back into your bladder or urine not draining at all. You can keep your overnight drainage bag in a drainage bag stand next to your bad on the floor or in a hanger that you can easily attach to your bedframe.

How important is hygiene?

Regularly washing your hands is generally super important but even more so when you’re looking after your indwelling urinary catheter. It’s super important that you always wash your hands with soap and water right before caring for your catheter. You should clean your catheter and its entry site twice a day with some mild soap and water. Make sure to never use any harsh soaps as this could easily irritate the entry site of your catheter. If anything around your catheter is sore, check that there are no obvious injuries to the skin or similar that might cause your discomfort. If you can’t find anything that’s wrong or your discomfort is getting worse, it’s a good idea to speak to your nurse or doctor about it. When it comes to your catheter care, make sure to not use any creams or powders as this might lead to nasty blockages and urine infections.

Our top tip for jumping in the shower or taking a bath? Empty your leg bag and keep a spare pair of leg bag straps or a spare leg bag sleeve in the bathroom that you don’t mind when it gets wet.

Do you have to be careful about your diet?

Catheters generally don’t come with a lot of dietary restrictions, so you pretty much just need t keep eating your healthy diet. If you tend to get constipated quite easily, try eating more fibrous foods. Why is it important that you avoid getting constipated when you’re living with an indwelling urinary catheter? Well, if there’s a lot of stool in your bowels it can put quite a bit of pressure on your bladder and catheter which could potentially cause your catheter to leak.

Do I have to be careful about my fluids?

Staying hydrated is much more important than diet when it comes to your catheter and it’s super important that you drink anywhere between 1 to 2 litres every day. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine as much as possible is also a good idea as these two are probably the most-consumed bladder irritants. Are you wondering how you know whether you’re hydrated enough? The colour of your pee should be anywhere between almost clear to a faint straw colour. If it’s yellow or orange that’s when you know that a couple of glasses of water should be next on your to do list. Never forget, though, that medication, food, and drink can have an effect on the colour of your pee. So, if you’ve eaten a bunch of beetroot, don’t panic when your pee has got a pink or red tinge to it.

What about sex?

It’s always a good idea to have an open and honest conversation about your sex life with your nurse or doctor, preferably before getting your catheter inserted. Why? Easy! If you’re sexually active and want to remain sexually active, a suprapubic catheter might be a much better option for you than a urethral catheter.

Everything you need to know about travelling with your indwelling urinary catheter

When it’s time for your first trip after having your catheter inserted, you might feel a little overwhelmed and scared but don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone with this. And travelling with a catheter isn’t actually any scarier than it is without one! It just takes a little more planning than it used to. It’s always best that you get all your catheter supplies well in advance of your holiday to make sure you have everything you need. This way, you’ll know for sure that you don’t run out of anything you need, and it’ll ultimately help you to feel less nervous.

If you want to know more about travelling with your catheter, why not download our super handy brochure here? It also contains a travel checklist at the end of the document that you can use to make sure you’ve got everything you need. You can also download our travel certificate which will make getting a private screening at the airport super smooth.

Catheter Troubleshooting

Bypassing: This means that your urine is no longer only draining out via your catheter but you’re leaking urine around your catheter. How can you fix it? Your first step should always be to check for twists and kinks in the tubing of your catheter. If there’s nothing obviously amiss, see if your clothing might be pushing against your catheter tubing. If that’s not the case and you still experience bypassing, speak to your nurse or doctor about it as it’ll probably need medical attention.

Discomfort: Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be in any discomfort from your catheter so if you’re experiencing any, look if there’s anything pulling on your catheter tubing or if your catheter leg bag might’ve slipped. If that’s not the case and it still feels uncomfortable, talk to your continence nurse or doctor about it; you might only need a catheter that’s a different size or material.

Pain: You should definitely not be in any pain when it comes to your catheter, except for maybe immediately after getting it fitted. But that should usually go away again pretty soon. So, if you are in pain or suffer from frequent and strong bladder spasms, speak to your healthcare professional about it.

When your urine is dark and strong smelling: When you suddenly notice that your pee is a darker colour than usual and smelling stronger, you might be suffering from a urinary tract infection. As a first step, it’s a good idea to increase the amount of fluid you consume in a day. If that doesn’t make your symptoms go away, or you’re starting to develop additional symptoms, contact your continence nurse or doctor as you’ll likely need some medication.

Blockage: When your catheter suddenly stops draining urine from your bladder and you’re developing an achy belly it might point towards a blockage either in your catheter or in the tubing. As a first step, check the tubing and make sure there are no kinks and that your leg bag is sitting lower than your bladder. If there’s nothing else wrong and you can’t seem to get rid of the problem yourself, contact your nurse or doctor as soon as possible as catheter blockages require prompt medical attention.