Urinary tract infections (UTI) are common among individuals when using a catheter. Whenever a foreign object, like a catheter is used, this increases the chance of bacteria getting into the urinary tract that could lead to a UTI.
What is a catheter and why are they used?
A urinary catheter is a flexible tube helping drain urine from the bladder into a drainage bag. If a person is unable to urinate on their own a catheter helps empty the bladder regularly in order to avoid and prevent over-swelling of the bladder.
There are several reasons why a doctor may recommend a urinary catheter when a person is having difficulties urinating:
- A blockage in the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the bladder
- Injury to the urethra
- An enlarged prostate in men
- Birth defects affecting the urinary tract
- Kidney, ureter, or bladder stones
- Tumors within the urinary tract or reproductive organs
Catheters may also be used in special circumstances such as the following:
- To measure urine output in critically ill patients
- To drain the bladder before, during, or after a person has surgery
- During childbirth to drain a woman’s bladder after an epidural anesthetic
Catheters and urinary tract infections
Unfortunately, UTIs are a common potential side effect of using a catheter. The possibility of an increased risk for UTIs depends on the type of catheter used and for what length of time it’s in place. There are three main types of catheters:
- Intermittent catheter: This standard catheter is a thin, flexible tube that a person temporarily insets into their bladder through the urethra. It is typically removed after the bladder has been drained into a receptacle or the tube can be attached to an external drainage bag, which collects the urine. Once the bladder has been emptied, the catheter should be removed in order to insert a new catheter the next time a person needs to urinate. Intermittent catheters are less likely to cause a UTI than indwelling catheters.
- Indwelling catheter: This type of catheter is left in the bladder and collects urine by attaching to a drainage bag. The bag can be strapped to the inner thigh or to a stand in a position lower than the bladder. Indwelling catheters are used for longer-term catheterization making them more likely to increase the risk of a UTI developing.
- External catheter: Exclusively for urinary incontinence in men, external catheters are a condom-like device placed over the penis with a tube leading from the device to a drainage bag. Because external catheters do not enter the urethra, they tend to cause very little discomfort and compared to indwelling catheters, are less likely to cause a UTI.
Symptoms of a UTI
Anyone who’s had a UTI knows the frustration of them. Some common symptoms of UTIs may include:
- Smelly or cloudy urine
- Blood in the urine
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Pain in the abdomen or lower back
- Increased urgency to empty the bladder
- A burning or uncomfortable sensation inside the urethra
Anyone experiencing symptoms of a UTI should see their doctor as soon as possible to get started on treatment.
Ways to prevent a UTI when using a catheter
Since no one using a catheter wants to get a UTI, there are ways to lower this risk. Here are top ways to prevent a UTI when using a catheter:
- Follow the cathing regimen your doctor has prescribed. Understand which type of catheter you are using and the frequency of which to change it.
- Keep the areas around the catheter clean. This helps reduce bacteria that may be found in this area.
- Wash your hands before and after catheterization. Failing to practice proper hygiene by washing hands well, increases the likelihood of germs on unwashed hands contaminating the catheter as it is inserted. Using sterile gloves is a good option for preventing contamination from hands whenever access to clean water and soap is not available.
- Do not reuse the catheter. Once a catheter has been used, it is no longer sterile and needs to be thrown away. Even if you clean the catheter after using them, bacteria and pathogens can still be found on or inside the tube.
- Understand the proper placement of tubing and drainage bags. If using a drainage bag, keep it below the bladder to prevent backflow which can contain bacteria increasing the risk of a UTI. Keep the drainage bag secured to prevent tugging on the catheter. Keep the catheter tubes from “kinking” or twisting as this could result in accidental backflow into the bladder.
- Practice good cathing habits. Always empty drainage bags regularly; know the emptying schedule your doctor has advised.
- Drink plenty of water to help prevent infections