If you’re a man suffering from urinary retention (inability to drain your bladder that often comes with a sensation of frequent urge to urinate), urinary incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine) or an enlarged prostate (BPH), you may be wondering if a urinary catheter is right for you.
However, the type of catheter you need will depend on which of these problems you’re dealing with.
We’re here to help you decide. While you should always consult a healthcare professional before deciding on any form of treatment, we’ll discuss common symptoms you may be experiencing and which type of catheter is best for your condition. First things first—what is urinary catheterization?
Most commonly, urinary catheterization is the process by which a catheter—a hollow, flexible tube—is inserted into the bladder to drain or collect urine. You can also use external catheters to manage incontinence — read more about external catheters here.
What is a urinary catheter used for?
It’s important for the entire body that the bladder is kept empty of fluids. This helps avoid infection, keeps organs healthy and prevents urine leakage.
However, sometimes the bladder is unable to empty itself entirely or partially. This can not only cause urinary tract infections but also puts stress on the kidneys, and can ultimately lead to kidney failure and/or irreversible damage.
When a person’s bladder cannot empty urine itself, a urinary catheter is used—either as a short-term urology solution until the individual regains the ability to urinate on their own, or as a long-term solution.
You should talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you begin noticing changes in your urinary function or flow or if any of your symptoms become bothersome. It’s important to get treatment as soon as possible so you can prevent complications later on.
Now, let’s dive into some of the common reasons men may need a urinary catheter and which type is best for each issue.
A brief overview
Urinary retention is the inability of the bladder to completely empty on its own.
Even if an individual is able to pass urine, they may still have retention—a certain amount of urine remaining in the bladder. If you’re having retention symptoms but are still able to pass urine, consult with your doctor. They may order further tests to find out if you suffer from retention.
Common symptoms of urinary retention include:
- frequent urination, often eight or more times per day
- difficulty starting your urine stream
- weak flow of urine or a flow that starts and stops
- the need to urinate again right after you finish urinating
- getting up several times during the night to urinate
- urine leakage throughout the day (overflow incontinence)
- inability to tell when your bladder is full
- ongoing mild discomfort or feeling of fullness in your pelvis/lower abdomen
Type of catheters
Intermittent urinary catheters are the most common type of urinary catheters on the market. These standard catheters are inserted by the user (without the assistance of a medical professional) several times per day, allowing the bladder to drain. Once the bladder is drained of urine, the user is able to remove the catheter on their own as well. This process is called self-catheterization and it only takes a few minutes.
In intermittent catheterization, one end of the catheter is left open, either allowing the urine to drain into a toilet or attaching to a drainage bag that collects the urine. The other end leads to the urethra and, ultimately, the bladder.
Intermittent self-catheterization may appeal to men with retention problems as it allows you to maintain an active lifestyle and because you do not need to rely on anyone else in order to use the catheter.
Options within intermittent urinary catheters include closed system kits vs. standard catheters, coudé tip catheters vs. straight tip catchers and lubricated vs. non-lubricated catheters. Read more about the different catheter options in our comprehensive guide to catheters.
A brief overview
Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder control and therefore, the involuntary leakage of urine.
Common symptoms and types of urinary incontinence include:
- urine leakage when coughing, sneezing, laughing, exercising or lifting something heavy
- the sudden and intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine
- high frequency of urination, including throughout the night
- frequent dribbling of urine
Type of catheters
External catheters (also known as condom catheters) are catheters that are placed outside of the body and may be right for you if you suffer from incontinence.
Condom catheters are named as such because they are placed over the head of the penis, just like a condom.
Unlike intermittent catheters, external catheters aren’t meant for men suffering from retention but for men suffering from incontinence.
If you suffer from leakage of urine, external catheters are a good, clean and easy alternative to diapers and absorbent products.
External catheters often appeal to men because they’re easy to use, can be changed at home and are noninvasive.
A brief overview
For men, a severely enlarged prostate is a common reason for male catheter use. An enlarged prostate causes a narrowing of the urethra. This prevents urine from flowing smoothly out of the bladder.
An enlarged prostate can cause:
- difficulty emptying the bladder
- weak urine flow
- incomplete emptying or the feeling of incomplete emptying
- the need to urinate often, including at night
- severe urges leading to urine leakage
Type of Catheters
Like those with other types of urinary retention, men with an enlarged prostate (BPH) may find that an intermittent urinary catheter is best.
However, for an enlarged prostate, chances are that a coudé tip catheter will have more success than a straight tip catheter. This is because the coudé tip catheter is slightly bent at the tip, allowing it to move past a blockage—like an enlarged prostate.
Alternate Catheter Options
If you’ve undergone surgery or have another medical problem that makes the above urinary catheter options unusable, your doctor may suggest the use of an indwelling catheter or a suprapubic catheter.
Indwelling urinary catheters (AKA Foley catheters)
An indwelling urinary catheter is inserted the same way the intermittent urinary catheter is. However, the indwelling urinary catheter is able to stay in place in the bladder with the help of a water-filled balloon. This prevents the catheter from falling out.
In the case of indwelling urinary catheters, a urine collection bag is used or a valve is fitted so that urine can be drained into a toilet. The indwelling urinary catheter is typically replaced at least every month.
Suprapubic urinary catheters
The suprapubic catheter is inserted through a hole in the abdomen where it then goes directly into the bladder. The process is done under anesthesia—either general, epidural, or local. The suprapubic urinary catheter is typically replaced every 4 to 12 weeks.
A suprapubic catheter can either be attached to a urine collection bag strapped to the leg or a valve can be attached that allows urine to be drained directly into the toilet. A suprapubic catheter is used instead of an indwelling catheter when there’s trauma to the urethra or the bladder and direct access is more suitable.
If you still aren’t sure whether a catheter is right for you, or you’re looking to try out a different type of catheter, contact your doctor or take our product selection quiz. Better Health carries a selection of intermittent and external catheters that are reimbursable through insurance. If you’re not sure which catheter is best for you, you can request free samples through our website or call us for help at 415-475-8444.