Living with a urinary catheter

Leaking

Leakage around the catheter, or by-passing, is usually caused by a catheter blockage or bladder spasms. Other causes include infection, catheter encrustation, and loss of elasticity of the female urethra. Catheter leakage is common, maybe affecting as many as 25% to 65% of people with indwelling catheters (Switters DM: Assessing leakage from around the urethral catheter, Urology Nursing 9 1989).
 
Annie, who has a suprapubic catheter, said bladder leaks were often the first sign of her having a urinary tract infection (UTIs). Her doctor prescribed a daily antibiotic to help prevent UTIs. Peter Z, who also had a suprapubic catheter, found leaking a constant problem.
One of the problems with a suprapubic catheter is leaking urethrally, and this happens more often in women than men. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Melanie leaked urethrally when she was using a flip flow valve without a leg bag. John Y, who has a suprapubic catheter, said his urethra sometimes leaked when the leg bag got too full.
 
Stewart had had many leaks when he had a suprapubic catheter. He now has a urethral catheter but still leaks a bit.
Some people talked about having other kinds of leaking, for example when disconnecting the catheter and drainage bag. Carol leaked when she forgot to switch off the valve after taking off her night bag; Kenneth had leaking when the catheter balloon burst. He woke up in a wet bed.
 
Jack, who’d had a urethral catheter since 2011, couldn’t decide whether to keep it or have an operation on his enlarged prostate. The surgery would mean he could be catheter-free. His night bag leaks if it’s not attached properly and a blocked catheter also leads to leaking.
Gavin had more leaking when a catheter was first fitted. Since his spinal cord injury his bladder and bowel care has been more important than being able to walk or use his hands.

Last reviewed June 2015.

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