Living with a urinary catheter

Intermittent self catheterisation (ISC): being taught how to do it

Intermittent self catheterisation (ISC) is usually taught by a nurse. It is not a sterile technique but should be a clean one, so it is very important to have good hygiene standards. It is also important that people receive plenty of information before learning how to do it. Good communication skills can facilitate the learning experience. The head of a local continence service explained everything very clearly before she showed Peter how to pass a catheter.

Initially Peter felt a little faint when he tried to do ISC because he said it was “an unusual sensation”, but he soon got used to it.

It is important that the person teaching ISC takes a friendly and relaxed approach to reduce embarrassment and anxiety. Betty was aged 63 when she first learnt how to do ISC. She said she was taught by a wonderful nurse.

Some of the women we spoke to found doing ISC difficult at first. Jade, for example, said she didn’t know if she was inserting the catheter in the right place. With practice though, “you could do it with your eyes closed.” Jade was diagnosed with Fowler’s Syndrome when she was 13. Fowler’s Syndrome is the commonest cause of urinary retention in young women. The problem is caused by the sphincter’s failure to relax to allow urine to be passed normally. The urethral sphincter is the muscle that keeps people continent. Jade had a urethral catheter, a suprapublic catheter and now uses an intermittent catheter.

Jennifer, who was also diagnosed with Fowler’s Syndrome, had many urinary tract infections (UTIs) and, at the age of 19, found she could not pass urine. At first she tried self catheterisation and then a urethral catheter.

Carol was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2003. This had invaded her bladder and bowel. After several operations she had a urethral catheter, once for four months because of a perforated bladder. Sometimes she has to self catheterise because she has urinary retention.

In 2007 Faye became ill and found it impossible to pass urine. She used intermittent catheterisation until 2009 and then had an indwelling urethral catheter for a while. She now has a suprapubic catheter but hasn’t yet got a diagnosis.

Sometimes people find it impossible to self catheterise. Sharon started having urinary problems after a difficult forceps delivery. She found it hard to pass urine and had urine infections. Later, when she found it impossible to pass urine, she had to have a suprapubic catheter inserted, which she has had ever since.


Last reviewed June 2015.
Last updated June 2015.

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