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Common Intermittent Catheterization Complications| Causes, Prevention and Treatments

Clean intermittent catheterization is a necessary medical practice that at least 300,800 people go through in the United States. While intermittent catheterization helps people manage a variety of conditions, it also comes with a set of potential complications. This article helps you learn more about common catheter-associated complications—what they are, why they happen, how to prevent them, and how to treat them. 

UTI: one of the most common catheter complications

What it is: an infection of the urinary tract by infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses.  

Why it happens: a catheter-associated urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria on the person’s hands, skin, clothes, or surrounding environment contaminates the catheter. When the contaminated catheter is inserted into the urethra and the bladder, this may lead to an infection. 

How to prevent it: 

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
  2. Make sure to disinfect your urethra opening with antiseptic towelettes
  3. Use a sterile, non-touch catheter. A non-touch catheter doesn’t require you to touch the tube of the catheter to guide the catheter in, thus minimizing the chance of catheter contamination. 
  4. Completely empty the bladder to avoid bladder and kidney infections

How to treat it: 

Go to your doctor when you notice symptoms of UTIs, which include burning sensations while urinating, frequently urinating in small amounts, fevers, chills, and bloody urine. Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics to manage the infection. 

An untreated lower UTI (infection of the urethra and bladder) may lead to a kidney infection, an upper UTI that is considered dangerous.

Urethral trauma/pain

What it is: urethral trauma can be little tears along the urethra as the result of friction, or it can be the creation of false passages along the urethra (when the catheter cuts out of the urethral wall and creates a new pathway). A catheter-associated urethral injury can lead to symptoms of pain, blood and blood clots in urine, and a burning sensation when you urinate. Urethral trauma that doesn’t heal can become ulcers and sore spots. 

Why it happens: incorrect catheterization technique and insufficient lubrication are two common causes of urethral injury. Sometimes, there are other conditions such as urethral stricture that make catheterization difficult. 

How to prevent it: 

  1. Make sure to use a catheter with the correct tip. People with enlarged prostates, urethral strictures or false passages may need a coude catheter to make insertion easier. 
  2. Make sure your catheter is well-lubricated—sometimes pain is caused by a dry catheter
  3. Use gentle movements—sudden and strong movements can create small tears along the urethra or create a false passage 
  4. Make sure your catheter is not too big for you; most people can go a size up or down without a problem, but sometimes big sizes can still lead to irritation 

How to treat it: always talk to your doctor and nurse if you experience pain. They may offer you pain medication or correct the way you self-catheterize.  

Urethritis

What it is: urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra that can lead to an infection. Symptoms include burning sensations during urination and itching at the urethra opening. 

Why it happens: any time a device—such as a catheter—is inserted into a body cavity, there is a risk of trauma that can cause pain and inflammation

How to prevent it: avoid causing irritation to the urethra by using plenty of lubricant, gentle movements, and correct catheterization techniques. Talk to your doctor at the first signs of urethral inflammation so you can treat it as soon as possible. 

How to treat it: once you are diagnosed with urethritis, your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics. 

Bladder Stones

What it is: when urine doesn’t get emptied completely, it becomes concentrated in the bladder, leading to a concentration of minerals, which may form into bladder stones

Why it happens: bladder stones can be caused by the introduction of pubic hair into the urethra during catheterization, mineral crystals forming along the catheter.

How to prevent it: 

  • Talk to your doctor as soon as you notice abnormal urinary symptoms
  • Make sure to drain your bladder completely when you self-catheterize

How to treat it: once you are diagnosed with bladder stones, your doctor may perform surgery to remove the stones. 

Orchitis

What it is: orchitis is the infection of the testicles that leads to testicle swelling testicle, blood in semen, unusual discharge from the penis, fever, and painful urination and ejaculation. 

If untreated, orchitis can lead to prostatitis (inflammation and enlargement of the prostate), an abscess in the scrotum or prostate, and an epididymitis infection (infection of the tube at the back of the testicle that carries and stores sperm).

Why it happens: orchitis can occur as a result of UTI or STI. 

How to prevent it: follow the necessary steps to avoid catheter-associated UTI, which includes proper cleaning of the hands and urethra opening, and using a sterile, non-touch catheter.

How to treat it: Doctors may treat orchitis with antibiotics, and suggest cold packs to manage testicle swelling. 

Bladder spasms

What it is: bladder spasms are abnormal muscle contractions in the bladder that can be painful,

Why it happens: irritation caused by catheters can lead to bladder spasms

How to prevent it

  • Avoid bladder irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Get plenty of exercise and maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid excessive fluid intake

How to treat it: your doctor may prescribe you medicine to manage bladder spasms. 

The tips provided in this article is not meant to substitute medical advice from your doctor. However, it is still helpful to keep in mind that every time you self-catheterize, you should use proper hygiene practices, sufficient lubrication, gentle movements, and the right type of catheter for your body. Also remember to keep communication open with your doctor and nurse. Always tell them when you notice symptoms of trauma, inflammation, infection, or other abnormal signs. 

If you are looking for a catheter that is touch-free and pre-lubricated—and top of it—discreet and compact, then you should check out CompactCath. CompactCath catheters come encased in silicone oil, whose anti-microbial properties give you an extra layer of protection. 

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