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Header: What is a catheter?


Learn about what a catheter is





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Header: What is a catheter?


A catheter is a plastic hollow tube with eyelets (drainage holes) at the insertion end. It is advanced through the urethra into the bladder in order to drain urine. Catheters can either be permanent (indwelling catheters) and/ or intermittent. The intermittent catheter, considered the preferred method for some medical conditions, is inserted at regular intervals throughout the day and removed immediately after the bladder has been fully emptied.

What is the purpose of the intermittent catheter?

The intermittent catheter is used to regularly empty the bladder in order to prevent the bladder from overfilling and/or losing muscle tone.  Bladder muscle tone prevents urine from flowing back up the ureters toward the kidneys and decreases the opportunity for bacteria to grow in the urinary system.

Uncoated and coated catheters

Catheters should be lubricated to minimize the friction between the catheter and the tissue in the urethra.  There are catheters that do not have any coating on them and require that you apply a layer of a water soluble lubricant to them. (available in small sterile packets)

Some catheters come with either a gel or a special surface treatment that activates with water (hydrophilic coating). The most advanced catheters are already immersed in water, and can be immediately used out of the packaging.

What length to choose?

Catheters come in different lengths.
In general your catheter needs to be a bit longer than the urethra, which is typically 18- 23cm (9”) in men, and 3-5 cm (1 ½- 2”) in women.  Because the catheter eyelets are not placed at the tip of the catheter, the catheter needs to be a bit longer to allow for adequate drainage.1

Standard catheters
Male catheters - 12-16 inches in length

Female catheters - 2.5-8 inches in length
Pediatric catheters- 8-10 inches in length.
Catheter options now include compact sizes with shorter lengths and more discreet.


  1. Urinary and Fecal Incontinence; Current Management Concepts. Doughty, Dorothy MN,RN, FAAN,CWOCN, Mosby 2006. P24-25
  2. Managing and Treating Urinary Incontinence Second Edition: Newman, Diane RNC, MSN, CRNP,FAAN., Wein Alan MD PhD(hon) HJEalth Professions Press, Inc. Baltimore, Md 2009 p 65-66



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Header: Catheter Tips


The majority of intermittent catheters are designed with a standard straight tip.
However, for certain medical conditions, such as an enlarged prostate, strictures, or false  passages, difficulty with insertion, individuals may benefit from a slightly curved tip version (Tiemann tip coude or Olive tip coude ).

What French size (outer diameter of the catheter) to use

The outer diameter of the catheter is referred to as the French (Fr) size.
The most commonly used size in adults is 12 or 14 French.
Your healthcare provider will determine the appropriate French size to meet your individual needs.

The intermittent catheter tube
Catheters are made of different materials. Some are softer and more flexible, while others are more firm and stiff.  The choice of catheter type may depend on your individual ability to handle the catheter or sensitivity to a certain material. Choosing your type of intermittent catheter is a decision you and your healthcare provider can make together.

Some of these different materials are:

  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): A firm plastic material which is quite common in medical devices.  It may contain softeners, which make it less rigid.
    *Some of these softeners may contain phthalates which may be potentially harmful to the body and to the environment. 
  • PU (polyurethane): This material is becoming increasingly popular for catheters because it is firm yet flexible. Therefore, it does not need added softeners. (Some of which may contain phthalates).
  • Latex: This is a natural (rubber) product that has been used in catheters for many years. Of late, it is becoming less popular because of increasing latex sensitivities/ allergies.
  • Silicone: This is a very flexible material by nature and has no need for plastic softeners.

SpeediCath is PU and phthalate-free, limiting the exposure of chemicals in your body as well as limiting the environmental impact.    

Which is best for me?
Individual intermittent catheter users have different needs due to their medical conditions and /or physical abilities.
For some, a slightly firmer catheter may be easier to insert, which is especially important if you have limited hand dexterity.
The good news is that there are many different intermittent catheter types to choose from.
You and your healthcare provider should determine which intermittent catheter may be best for you.
A Coloplast advisor can certainly help with product information.

The eyelets (drainage holes)
The intermittent catheter typically has 2 holes punched toward the insertion end of the catheter. Once the catheter reaches the bladder, urine will pass from the bladder into the eyelets (drainage holes, through the catheter tube and out of the body. To minimize the risk of damage to the tissue of the urethra, ask for a hydrophilic intermittent catheter with smooth, polished eyelets.

Catheter connector/ handle:
Most intermittent catheters have a color-coded connector at its end. This allows a urine drainage bag or extension tubing to be used in cases where an individual may not be able to reach the toilet.

The eyelets (drainage holes)
The intermittent catheter typically has 2 holes punched towards the insertion end of the catheter. Once the catheter reaches the bladder, urine will run through these eyelets (drainage holes) out of the bladder. To minimize the risk of damage to the urethra, ask for a coated (pre-lubricated) intermittent catheter with polished eyelets.
Catheter connector/ handle: The connector at the end of the handle allows the attachment of a urine bag or extension tubing in cases where you cannot reach the toilet.
If you have any questions to our products, please feel free to call us.

Coloplast Care Specialist -1-855-863-3907

These are general guidelines meant to help you with typical questions. You should follow the specific instructions provided by your healthcare team and the intermittent catheterization solution you are using.



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