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What is a Bedpan?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A bedpan is a type of portable bathroom device that is used for people who cannot leave their beds to use a standard toilet or toilet chair. They are commonly used for people with paralysis, women recovering from delivery when they have had an epidural, and for elderly patients with conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or any limited mobility issues. The original bedpan was usually made of metal, and was slipped underneath the patient’s genitals and rear so the patient could relieve him or herself without needing to rise from the bed.

The bedpan made of metal has been the source of some medical problems and certainly some complaints. First, the metal kind is very uncomfortable and cold. This may make relieving oneself difficult. Further, people who must use them on a regular basis may get ulcers and bedsores, especially if they must sit on the bedpan for long periods of time. In extended care facilities, a bedpan may be left under a patient until they have used it, and this may sometimes mean sitting on the bedpan for extended time periods.

Because of issues with the metal bedpan, some companies have designed different styles that promote greater comfort. Chief among these are the ergonomic bedpan and the recycled or molded pulp versions. The ergonomic bed plan is a much smaller plastic device that covers the patient’s genitals completely. It has a small handle and can thus be easily removed when the patient is done with it. It does normally require a little cleaning of the patient after use for defecation.

The pulp bedpan has the advantage of being a throwaway device and is made from recycled materials. It is generally softer and of course doesn’t have the cold feeling of the metal bedpan. This type of bedpan is usually used only once. Pulp and ergonomic bedpan designs are most popular in European hospitals and care facilities. You are still more likely to see the standard metal bedpan in use in American hospitals.

Given the private nature of the function of a bedpan, common politeness dictates leaving the room when a patient is using one, unless you are assisting them. Having to use a bedpan is often thought of as embarrassing, and patients who don’t need assistance may prefer the privacy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Mar 24, 2014

@Reminiscence, I've used a bedpan a few times in my life and it's not as bad as it sounds. I was able to sit up in bed, so I could assume an almost natural position. It was a little embarrassing having someone else clean me up after I was done, but at least I wasn't uncomfortable.

I'd say if you are a man and you have a problem with urinating into a bedpan, ask the nurse for a plastic urine collector. I felt more comfortable using one of those, anyway.

By Reminiscence — On Mar 23, 2014

I honestly don't see how people use bedpans. The few times I've been hospitalized, I was still ambulatory enough to make it to the regular restroom and back. They offered me a bedpan one time and I turned it down. I didn't think I could do what I needed to do in the position I was in. I'd almost rather have a catheter inserted for urination purposes.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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