Treatments and tests

What is a catheter?

A catheter is a tube that is inserted into your bladder, allowing your urine to drain freely.

The most common reasons for using a catheter are:

  • to rest the bladder following an episode of urinary retention
  • to rest the bladder after surgery – most commonly bladder, bowel or urinary tract surgery
  • for conditions such as stroke or multiple sclerosis
  • due to complications of diabetes
  • because of spinal injury
  • for conditions which affect the nerves that supply the bladder.

If you don’t fully understand why you have to have this procedure or how the equipment is used discuss it with your doctor or nurse.

It is important that you let your doctor or nurse know if you are taking blood-thinning medications such as:

  • aspirin
  • warfarin
  • clopidogrel.

Different types of catheters

There are different types of catheters available.

Self-intermittent catheterisation

Self-intermittent catheterisation is a non-sterile clean procedure which has a low risk of infection when performed in your own home.

Urinary and suprapubic

Urinary and suprapubic catheters can stay in place for:

  • a short time
  • for a few days or weeks
  • a longer period of time to manage your bladder.

The drainage system used may be one of the following:

  • a leg bag on continual drainage which is connected to a larger volume drainage bag/bottle at night time
  • a catheter valve which is drained every 2 to 3 hours during the day and can be attached to a drainage bag/bottle at night.

Don’t be afraid to ask your nurse questions about your catheter and the drainage system being used.

It is important that you let your doctor or nurse know if you have a latex allergy (an allergy to rubber). For example, you may react to rubber bands, gloves or condoms.

Catheters are made from both rubber and non-rubber materials such as silicone. It is important to use the correct type of catheter and a non-rubber catheter is used if you are allergic to latex.

Where to get help


Royal Perth Hospital

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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