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What is a Urethral Catheter?

By Madeleine A.
Updated May 17, 2024
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A urethral catheter refers to an indwelling catheter apparatus that is inserted directly into the urethra. Urine is removed from the body via the catheter and then deposited in a collection bag. Typically, the urethral catheter is used when obstructions such as urinary strictures are present, or when the urinary tract does not effective work to eliminate urine from the body. Sometimes, a urethral catheter is referred to as a Foley catheter.

Occasionally, a urethral catheter may be indicated to keep an individual dry, which is important in the presence of decubitus ulcers, or bed sores. Wet skin can promote bed sores or make existing sores worse. In addition, indwelling catheters are often used to record fluid output in the acute care setting. The collection bag measures urinary output so that the physician can gauge urinary tract function. In addition, the urethral catheter may be used to obtain a urine specimen for urine diagnostic testing.

Typically, the insertion of the urethral catheter is a bedside procedure, and not a procedure that is performed under the strict sterile field of the operating room. Because of this, the introduction of bacteria into the urethra may result in infection. Although great care is usually taken to make the procedure as organism-free as possible, it is still usually not done under sterile conditions. The health care provider must meticulously wash her hands and she should also wear a surgical mask.

Generally, prior to the insertion of the catheter, the perineal area is washed with a soap-and-water solution, and then a Betadine solution. This combination cuts down on pathogens and reduces the risk of infection. Next, the health care provider dons sterile gloves, and the external genitalia is then surrounded with sterile drapes. The appropriate size catheter is then lubricated with a sterile lubricant, and inserted in accordance with facility policy. A small balloon is then inflated to keep it in place.

Although the insertion of the urethral catheter is generally well tolerated, complications can sometimes arise. One of the main complications includes sustaining urethral trauma. This can cause bleeding and pain, however, with prompt recognition and treatment, the condition is usually reversible. In addition, the patient must be observed for signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection, which may include blood in the urine, fever, and chills. Infection must be promptly reported so that appropriate treatment can begin.

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