Choosing the Best Catheter: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need
Whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned user, we bet there are a few things you don’t know when it comes to choosing the best catheter for yourself.
The first part of this guide will cover the basic points of choosing a catheter—infection risk, french size, length, and tip (straight vs coude). The second part of this guide will lead you through the things you should consider but perhaps aren’t—discretion, portability, lubrication, design, and cost.
Catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI): what it is and how to reduce your risk
Catheter infection risk is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing the best catheter. A catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) can be triggered when a bacteria-contaminated catheter is inserted into the urethra, which commonly happens when the user touches the catheter tube with unclean hands during insertion.
To prevent catheter infection, always wash your hands before using a catheter. However, to further minimize your risk, you should choose a catheter that is touch-free, meaning you don’t have to touch the part of the tube that you insert.
Many catheters are designed to be touch-free now. They can have a plastic sheath to hold on to while you insert or the whole catheter can be wrapped in a plastic sleeve for touch-free insertion.
The purpose of the non-touch catheter is to minimize the chance of bacteria getting onto the catheter via your hands. It also helps if your catheter comes pre-lubricated. If you currently use a catheter that requires applying lubricant before use, all that handling could potentially introduce the bacteria on your hand or the bacteria on the lubricant package onto your catheter. Therefore, consider a catheter that comes pre-lubricated. Not only will it save you time, but it also takes a step further to guard you against urinary tract infections.
Choosing the right french size: adult men and women
The diameter of the catheter tube is measured on the french scale. One french unit refers to .33mm in catheter diameter. To skip the math, just know the most common catheter french size for males is 14 french, and the most common catheter french size for women is 12 french.
Average male catheter size range: 14-16fr; most common: 14fr
Average female catheter size range: 10-12fr; most common: 12fr
The easiest way to find out the best catheter size for you is to try some catheter samples. Most people can go a size up or down without a problem, and the only impact they would see is the speed of the flow. However, for men, if the catheter diameter is smaller than the diameter of the urethra, urine may leak from around the catheter instead of in a smooth stream through the catheter. If the catheter is too big, you might feel an uncomfortable (tight and burning) sensation during insertion. In extreme cases, catheters that are too big can make minor tears in the urethra, at which point you may see blood in your urine. Keep in mind that a lack of lubrication and a hard inflexible catheter can also make insertion uncomfortable even if the size is right.
Catheter french sizes are universally color-coded. Look at the color of your catheter funnel to find out which size you have. Here are the most common adult catheter sizes and colors:
- Size 10 french: black
- Size 12 french: white
- Size 14 french: green
- Size 16 french: orange
- Size 18 french: red
Catheter Length for men and women
- Standard catheter length male: 16 inches; average length of male urethra: 20 cm
- Standard catheter length female: 5-6 inches; average length of female urethra: 4 cm
Who needs extra long catheters?
Women who are plus-sized or who have strictures may need to purchase extra-long catheters. Women who self-catheterize in a wheelchair may need a male catheter: the 16-inch length can let them drain into the toilet from the wheelchair.
However, if the catheter is still too short, you can use a catheter extension that connects to the funnel of the catheter and provides extra inches.
There are also unisex catheters that serve both men and women by allowing them to pull out as much length as they need (up to 16 inches) from a wheel that the catheter wraps around.
Coudé catheter vs straight catheter
A straight catheter has a straight tip and is the standard catheter.
A coudé catheter has a curved tip. The curve makes insertion easier for people who have bumps along the urethra or at the entrance of the bladder. The bumps act as “speed bumps” to the straight catheters, making it hard for them to pass through. On the other hand, the curved tip of a coude will allow the catheter to slip past the bumps more smoothly. The coudé tip also helps prevent the catheter from being inserted into a false passage.
People with these conditions may need the coudé catheter:
- Enlarged prostate aka Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
- Scarring from prior prostate surgery
- Urinary stricture disease or prior urethral trauma
- False passages in the urethra or stoma
- Radiation treatment for prostate/bladder cancer
When inserting a coudé catheter, you need to make sure the tip points up. Usually, you can see a line that marks the direction either on the funnel or along the catheter tube. For the CompactCath coudé, the tip will always point up as long as you hold the case facing upwards.
Choosing the best catheter lubrication method: lubricant packet, hydrophilic coating, and silicone oil coating
The oldest way to lubricate catheters is to use K-Y jelly packets on dry catheters. There are a few reasons that this method is not ideal:
- Time-consuming and inconvenient: Compared to pre-lubed, ready-to-use catheters, the dry catheter requires extra time to be lubed.
- Potentially higher infection risk: Whether you are ripping open the lubricant packet or guiding the catheter through the packet, there is a chance that the germs on your hands or on the shell of the packet can get on your catheter, leading to a urinary tract infection (UTI).
- Insufficient lubrication: as you insert the catheter, you will notice the gel lubricant gathering around your urethra opening. Because your urethra is narrow, thus pushing the gel out, a lot of the gel lubricant cannot travel deep into your urethra. This means your catheter may not be lubricated enough as you insert and later pull out. The friction can cause discomfort or even minor wounds that lead to bleeding and increased risk of infection.
An alternative to the dry catheter is the pre-lubed catheter, and right now there are two main types on the market: the hydrophilic catheter and the silicone-oil-coated catheter.
The hydrophilic catheter has a polymer coating that becomes smooth and slippery when it comes into contact with water. This kind of catheter comes packaged with a sterile water pouch that can be broken before use, lubricating the catheter. Since the hydrophilic catheter needs to be soaked in water, it’s likely to drip water on you while you are using it.
The silicone-oil-coated catheter, on the other hand, is an oil, so it doesn’t drip. It is medically inert (it would not react with any chemicals in your body), and it has antimicrobial properties—the ability to kill microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. The silicone-oil-coated catheter provides excellent lubrication and is an exciting innovation within the catheter industry.
What design elements to consider when choosing a catheter
When you are choosing a catheter, you have a lot of choices, so think about how you want the catheter to fit into your life. Maybe you want it to take up as little space as possible in your already crowded bags? Maybe you don’t want people to see it and immediately recognize it to be a catheter? And maybe you want it to fit into your back pocket when you go to a public restroom? If discretion is a concern, you might want to opt for a catheter that is compact, lightweight, and tastefully packaged. Check out this catheter designed by CompactCath to have an elegant rain-drop shaped packaging and is smaller than the palm of your hands.
What design elements to consider when you have limited dexterity
People who have Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, arthritis and so on may need a catheter that is easy to navigate, but not all catheters are designed with that in mind. Look for a catheter with an easy-to-open design—such as a hoop that you can easily hold on to while opening the catheter package, and with an easy-to-insert design—a plastic sleeve surrounding the tube.
Finally, what’s best for your budget?
If you have insurance, determine if you are covered for catheters by reading over your insurance policy, contacting your insurance representative, or call us at +1 (888) 933-2284, and we will find out for you!
If you already get your catheters from a DME, did you know you can switch to another brand of catheters anytime you want with no extra charge most of the time? (Please note that if your doctor prescribed you a particular brand of catheter, you may need a new prescription)
Contact your DME representative to request a free sample of CompactCath, or request it through our website.
If you don’t have insurance and are buying out of pocket, CompactCath gives out free samples and a 40% discount on your first purchase.
Using a catheter can be a difficult and taxing experience, but choosing the right catheter might just make it a little better. Since you might need a catheter as often as five to six times a day, every day, it’s important to try different samples to find the one you feel most comfortable with. Using catheters can get costly, so make sure you are informed of your benefits and eligibility. The CompactCath team is here to help you at any step of the way—from figuring out your insurance to providing you with the best catheter.
Try CompactCath to See if It’s Right for You!
CompactCath is a super-compact, pocket-sized, touch-free catheter that is pre-lubricated with anti-bacterial silicone oil. It has an easy to open and discreet design that fits seamlessly in your life.
CompactCath is designed by a team of physicians, mechanical engineers, and MBAs from Stanford. It is FDA-cleared in 2014, won two iF product design awards (2016, 2017), was covered by CNN Money, holds six patents, and won the BioDesign Spectrum grant and the LPCH Pediatric Innovation grant.