Living with a urinary catheter

Condom catheters

There are several different types of catheter – condom, intermittent, urethral and suprapubic. Which one is used depends on the severity of a person’s condition and symptoms and how long the catheter is needed. Different types of catheter can be used at different times depending on a person’s changing needs. An indwelling catheter is used when all other types of treatment have failed. The best alternative to it – a condom catheter or intermittent self catheterisation – is usually considered first.

External catheters are the least invasive for draining urine and are available as penile sheath catheters for men (condom catheters). Here, men talk about their experiences of using a condom catheter. Because this website focuses on the experiences of people living with a long-term indwelling catheter and intermittent self catheterisation, a condom catheter – if used at all – was usually used only in the short-term. When it became clear that an indwelling catheter would be more suitable, the condom catheter was no longer used. Condom catheters are a good way of collecting urine in men who have no urinary retention or urinary obstruction and can use their hands well enough to be able to use the catheter themselves. With condom catheters, the risks of damaging the urethra and of infection are less.

A condom catheter is a urine storage device that can be used to treat short-term incontinence in men. It consists of a flexible sheath that fits over the penis just like a condom. The condom catheter is rolled onto the penis and attached to it using double-sided adhesive, a jockey-type strap or a foam strap. The catheter is connected to a tube that drains the urine into a drainage bag. Condom catheters are available in many sizes. Leg bags also come in different sizes and can vary from brand to brand.As the bag fills, it becomes heavier. Condom catheters are available in latex and silicone. Latex rubber can cause problems for some people with allergies. A condom catheter and leg bag should cause no problems in normal daily activities. John Y, a 77-year-old man with a neurological condition called spastic tetraparesis, started using a condom catheter when he found he had to pass urine urgently. A urologist [a doctor who specialises in urinary tract problems and the male reproductive organs] later recommended an indwelling catheter.

Badg and Martin tried condom catheters when they were first spinally injured. Badg spent 7 months in a spinal injury unit and, after being given a urethral catheter first, nurses tried to see if he could manage with a condom catheter instead. He found, though, that for him it caused the onset of mild autonomic dysreflexia.This is a potentially life threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention. It occurs when the blood pressure in a person with a spinal cord injury above T5-6 becomes excessively high because of the over-activity of the autonomic nervous system. The most common symptoms are sweating, pounding headache, tingling sensation on the face and neck, blotchy skin around the neck and goose bumps. The symptoms may not all appear at once and their severity may vary.

The main disadvantage of condom catheters is irritation if attached too tightly. Penile ulceration, scarring and penile tissue loss can result. Dislodgement and leaking can also be a problem. Making sure the tubing is either taped to the leg or strapped so it will not move around can solve the problem of dislodgement. The catheter tape and adhesive can make some people sore.

Charles, who had multiple sclerosis since 1986, started using intermittent self catheterisation (ISC) in 2005 when he found it hard to control his bladder. In 2009, he developed brachial neuritis, which limited the use of his hands so ISC became more and more difficult. When he damaged his urethra while trying to self catheterise, he had to go into hospital. He tried using a condom catheter but said ‘you need the right penis for it’.

Stuart said he hadn’t met anyone yet who’d been able to get on with a condom catheter. He felt that such a catheter was ‘a non-starter’ for him personally because he had very little use of his hands after a spinal injury.

Infection is a risk with condom catheters too. Peter Y, who’d had a spinal injury after breaking his neck in a car accident, used a condom catheter for over 30 years. He then changed to a urethral catheter around 2003 after several infections and urinary retention.

Most of the men we interviewed who used a condom catheter did so before having an indwelling one, but Kenneth started using a condom catheter after having had a urethral catheter for 8 years. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1994 and became incontinent after the surgery. In 2002 medical staff found it impossible to insert a new catheter and he now uses a condom catheter. He has learnt about it through trial and error.

If a condom catheter has been unsuitable, the doctor might recommend intermittent self catheterisation or an indwelling catheter instead (see ‘Intermittent self catheterisation (ISC)’, ‘Indwelling catheters: urethral catheters’ and ‘Indwelling catheters: suprapubic catheters’).

Last reviewed June 2015.
Last updated June 2015.

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