Debunking myths about living with catheters

December 2 2015

From now on you will need catheters to empty your bladder... These words would be a shock to anyone. But it doesn’t have to be so bad. Let us debunk some myths about living with catheters and nuance the picture a little bit.


 It is painful

  • False
    It should not hurt, although there might be a feeling of unease in the beginning. This will go away when you have practiced Clean Intermittent Catheterization (CIC) for a while.

It leads to infections

  • Partly true
    It is partly true that using catheters could lead to infections, since there is a risk of bringing bacteria from the surrounding area into the urinary tract. With thorough hand hygiene though, the risk is low compared to other emptying methods. The catheter itself is sterile, and good catheters have an insertion grip so you don’t need to touch the tube with your hands.

    If you have had urinary tract infections (UTI's) caused by residual urine remaining in the bladder, CIC could lead to fewer infections, since you empty the bladder regularly and completely. Remaining urine is a common reason for UTI's.

It worsens incontinence

  • False
    The risk of leakage is low since you empty the bladder completely. On the contrary, catheterization may improve your continence. Talk to your nurse or doctor for more information.

It is complicated

  • False
    You might experience CIC as a little bit tricky in the beginning, but as soon as you have tried it a few times, it will become a natural thing in your life. Many users describe it as just another thing to add to your daily routines, like brushing your teeth. There are a lot of tips and tricks for easier handling, insertion and removal.

It is time consuming

  • False
    This perception usually arises during the initial teaching. However, with practice and increasing confidence, the time spent can be greatly reduced and the experienced user may not need much more time than it takes to pee naturally.

It is hard to perform in public bathrooms

  • Partly true
    It depends very much on the bathroom. With a disabled toilet with the right facilities it is no different from using the bathroom at home. 
    Most users catheterize themselves before leaving home, to avoid public bathrooms, due to the need of certain facilities. The washbasin sometimes is placed outside the actual bathroom which makes it hard to wash your hands and not touch anything before inserting the catheter, or to wet a dry catheter. But experienced users, especially if they don’t have any problems with hand function, don’t see catheterization in public bathrooms as a problem.

You can’t travel overseas

  • False
    Many catheter users fear long journeys, especially flights, where you will need to empty your bladder at some point, and the space is limited both in the cabin and in the bathroom.
    Discuss your catheter strategy with your doctor before you travel—there are ways to handle the flight. One way is to attach a urinary bag to the catheter and use a blanket to cover your lap. There are good kit products on the market. The urine will be collected in a plastic bag, and can be taken away by your traveling companion or flight attendant.

    Also make sure to bring as many catheters as you will need during the trip, since it can be tricky to get hold of new ones if you are abroad. Make sure you have enough catheters in your hand luggage to last you a while if your bag is lost or delayed.

    For more tips and advice on CIC, watch this video with Karen Logan who is a Consultant Nurse for Continence Care and Head of Continence Services in Newport, South Wales, UK.

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