Living with a urinary catheter

Advantages of an indwelling catheter

Urinary catheterisation is a medical procedure used to drain and collect urine from the bladder. A urinary catheter might be used long term:
  • to treat urinary retention (inability to empty the bladder when needed)
  • when there is obstruction in the urinary tract (such as a bladder stone or, in men, a swollen prostate gland) and the obstruction can’t be removed immediately
  • to treat urinary incontinence(leaking urine or being unable to control urination) if all other types of treatment have failed
  • to remove urine from the bladder if nerve damage interferes with bladder control (this is called neuropathic bladder)
  • in bed-bound people too weak to go to the toilet normally

Here, men and women who have been living with a urinary catheter for varying lengths of time talk about the advantages of having a long-term urinary catheter.
Peter Y, who’d had a spinal cord injury, used a condom catheter for over 30 years before using a urethral catheter. He said the catheter had saved his life and given him energy again after many infections and ill-health. Iain, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), had had no problems at all living with a suprapubic catheter. It dealt with the urgent need to go to the toilet, an important benefit also noted by others.
For John Y, the catheter had taken away his anxieties about incontinence. He said it was ‘as good as a cup of Horlicks at night’. He often forgets he has it and says it’s ‘brilliant’.
Ian, who had a spinal cord injury when he was 16, said the catheter doesn’t affect his everyday life'
Some people said that having a catheter had improved their day to day lives – they could go out for the day without worrying about finding a toilet. Charles said that he and his wife could now go out together, which had been much more difficult without the catheter. The catheter has helped the problem of urgency and given his ‘lifestyle a boost’.
Peter, who has a urethral catheter and a colostomy, finds the catheter easier to manage.
John Z had become incontinent after bowel cancer surgery and wore pads for a long time. As his incontinence problems got worse, the pads would often be wet through before he’d got to the toilet. He became housebound. Having a catheter made him feel he’d ‘joined the human race again’'
Some people said that, while other health problems often affected their daily life, (e.g. arthritis, spinal cord injury), the catheter didn’t as long as they looked after it (see ‘Looking after the catheter and catheter site’).
Carol, who had bladder problems brought on by endometriosis, used a catheter whenever she had problems, the longest time for 4 months. Having a catheter was ‘a relief’ as it meant that her bladder could rest.
Living with a catheter wasn’t always easy to begin with but became easier with time. Stewart, who’d had a catheter after prostate surgery, said that, at first, it can seem like ‘a big intrusion’. He encouraged other people to talk about catheters and incontinence'

Michelle, with a spinal cord injury, said that the catheter had enabled her to go out and work. Her suprapubic catheter had been ‘the most liberating thing to allow me to live the life that I want to’ and that catheters were nothing to be afraid of.

Emlyn had had a urethral catheter since surgery for prostate cancer and said it might be removed after his radiotherapy to see if he can urinate normally. But he’s ‘not pushing to have it out ‘cos it’s handy and it’s convenient, and I can handle it.’

Stephanie felt reassured that her father, Gordon, had a catheter. He doesn’t have to get up to go to the toilet in the night. At 96, she worried that he might fall or injure himself.

The people we spoke to often said that, as long as the catheter was working well, it didn’t affect their daily life (see ‘Feelings about having an indwelling catheter’). Problems arose when they had a urinary tract infection or blockage (see ‘Urinary tract infection (UTIs)’ and ‘Blockages’). Some also wondered whether their present catheter could be improved on for the future (see ‘Catheter of the future: what catheter users say they’d like’). 

Last reviewed June 2015.

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