Living with a urinary catheter

Drinking lots of fluids

People with a long-term indwelling catheter need to drink plenty of fluids to keep the urine flowing. Drinking 2 to 3 litres of fluid per day (six to eight large glasses of fluid) can help reduce the risks of blockages and urinary tract infections (UTIs). A balanced diet of fruit, vegetables and fibre is also important to avoid constipation. If the bowel is full, it can press on the bladder causing problems with drainage and may also cause leaking around the tube. Some people with medical conditions may have restricted fluid intake and may need to check with their GP how much they should drink. Fluid intake may need to be increased after periods of exercise.

Many of the people we interviewed stressed the importance of drinking lots of fluids. The drinks they had included cold and boiled water, (decaffeinated) tea and coffee, fruit juice and squashes. Some people, like Charles, used a large leg bag so they could drink as much as they needed throughout the day.

People with a long-term catheter can help prevent a UTI from developing by drinking plenty of fluids. Fluid intake should be enough to make the urine look like water or only slightly yellow in colour, and clear. Some people stressed the importance of drinking citric drinks, especially lemon juice, and felt that the amount they drank every day had helped them prevent UTIs and blockages.

Some people we interviewed wondered whether cranberry juice was effective in preventing UTIs, several saying they’d read or received contradictory information. Current research studies show that cranberry juice can prevent urinary infections but is not a treatment. It makes the urine more acidic and so can reduce the number of UTIs. Bacteria are less likely to multiply in acid urine. Research studies also show that drinking cranberry juice can reduce urine odour, burning with urination, catheter blockages, and calcium in urine. Some people felt strongly that cranberry juice had helped them, several saying they took cranberry tablets as well as or instead of juice.

Some people said they drank lots of fluids when they were at home but less before going out or travelling somewhere. Many left home with an empty leg bag (see Travelling long distance). Annie drank less before going out but felt that she generally didn’t drink enough. Peter Z also felt that he should perhaps drink more. Gordon said he ‘didn’t overdo it’ and drank as he’d always done.

Stuart, who had a spinal cord injury, said he followed advice given to him in hospital to drink lots of fluids. However, he had to cut down his fluid intake when he was told that his salt levels were diminishing. Sara also felt that drinking too much could have negative effects on other parts of the body.

Drinking alcohol will not affect the catheter but may be unwise for people recovering from surgery or taking certain medication; doctors may advise against it.  

Last reviewed June 2015.

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