What is intermittent self catheterisation (ISC) and why is it used?
There are two main types of catheter:
- intermittent catheter, where the catheter is temporarily inserted into the bladder and removed once the bladder is empty
- indwelling catheter, where the catheter stays in place for many days or weeks
Intermittent catheterisation is a technique used to empty the bladder at regular intervals, varying from several times a day to once a week, depending on fluid intake, how quickly remaining (residual) urine increases in the bladder, and whether any urine is passed urethrally (the tube that leads from the bladder through which urine passes). Residual urine is the volume of urine left in the bladder immediately after someone has been to the toilet. Incomplete bladder emptying can lead to incontinence, urgency, frequency and recurrent infections. The catheter is temporarily inserted and removed once the bladder is empty. A person’s partner or a nurse may pass the catheter but many people master the technique themselves. Intermittent catheterisation is almost always done through the urethra (the tube through which urine passes). Occasionally it is done through the abdominal wall, called a Mitrofanoff (see 'Using a Mitrofanoff for intermittent self catheterisation').
But nowadays they go to school with a catheter in their pocket and they just perform intermittent self-catheterisation. And they’re able to empty the bladder completely and they manage this without experiencing serious infections in most cases. That is rare.
Studies suggest that clean intermittent catheterisation is the safest method of emptying the bladder because this method has the lowest potential for urological complications (Weld and Dmochowski 2000; Wyndaele 2012). The consultant we interviewed is convinced that the intermittent catheter is the best type. He called it ‘the gold standard’ because the bladder can be emptied completely, reducing the risk of infection, which is common when people use an indwelling catheter.
This is an intermittent catheter and it is coated with a lubricious surface so that if you just pour a little water into the package, it wets the surface of the catheter and that makes it very slippery. And you just then can take the catheter, and this can be passed into the urethra and the bladder drained.
Some catheters are ‘self-lubricated’- after it is soaked in water for a short time it becomes slippery enough to insert. With others, a lubricating jelly is used to ease insertion. Most catheters nowadays are ‘single use’, but some people still use the same catheter more than once, storing it in a clean place when not in use. Based on current research it is not possible to state that one type of catheter used for intermittent self catheterisation (ISC) or one technique or strategy is better than another (Moore, Fader and Getliffe 2007).
Peter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993. From about 2003 he had problems with incontinence so started intermittent self catheterisation.
- Age at interview:
- Peter was a specialist fire safety advisor for the NHS before he retired. He is married and has two adult children. Nationality/ethnic background: White British.
This particular catheter is called SpeediCath, and it’s my size, size 12. You can get different varieties.
Can you hold it up? [He holds up the catheter and takes it out of its holder]
Yes, you can get different varieties, different sizes and mine is size 12 and that’s how you peel and separate the top before removing the catheter, that’s the catheter edge, and you can see the lubrication there. And the lubrication is easy, you don’t have to worry about lubricating and it’s clean, it’s sterile.
Do you still have to use any gel or not?
No that was only on the second time. The lady did it the first time, the nurse did it the first time, and I did it the second time when I was at home, to start me off on the routine. And yes I did feel a little bit faint because it was an unusual sensation shall we say, yeah.
Carol used intermittent catheterisation on several different occasions because of problems brought on by bladder endometriosis.
- Age at interview:
- Carol was a chartered accountant before she retired due to ill health. She is single. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.
Moore K, Fader M, Getliffe K. (2007) Long-term bladder management by intermittent catheterisation in adults and children. Cochrane database systematic review October 17; 4: CD006008
Weld K. &Dmochowski R. (2000) Effect of bladder management on urological complications in spinal cord injured patients. The Journal of Urology163, 768-772
Wyndaele J. et al. (2012) Clean intermittent catheterization and urinary tract infection: review and guide for future research. BJUI110; E910-E917
Last reviewed October 2018.
Last updated October 2018.