What Are Urinary Catheters?

Urinary catheters are small, hollow tubes that are inserted into the bladder to collect and drain urine when the bladder can’t empty on its own.

Urinary catheters are inserted through the urethra or a surgically constructed opening that connects the bladder to the outside the body through the belly button, called a stoma.

There are various types of urinary catheters, including intermittent catheters (straight tip and coude tip), indwelling catheters, and external catheters.

Who Needs To Use A Urinary Catheter?

Urinary catheters are used by those who can’t empty their bladder naturally. This can be caused by number of medical conditions, including:

  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Urinary Retention
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Spina Bifida
  • Bladder Exstrophy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Enlarged Prostate (BPH)
  • Neurogenic Bladder

If a urinary catheter is needed, a physical examination will be performed and your doctor will provide you with a prescription.

What Are The Different Types Of Urinary Catheters Available?

Urinary catheters fall under three main categories:

  • Intermittent Catheters, or “in-and-out catheters” are single-use catheters that are used to drain the bladder each time the bladder is full, or at regular intervals–for most, this occurs three to six times a day. Intermittent catheters are inserted into the urethra when the bladder is full, and are removed and discarded after each use. There are a few different types of intermittent catheters: straight catheters and coude catheters.
  • Indwelling Catheters are catheters that stay within the bladder for continuous drainage. When inserted through the urethra, they are often referred to as Foley catheters or balloon catheters, as the catheter is held in place in the bladder by a small inflatable balloon. Indwelling catheters can also be inserted through an surgical opening above the pubic bone in the abdomen–these are called suprapubic catheters. A healthcare professional is needed to insert and replace the catheter periodically. Indwelling catheters are attached to a leg or drainage bag to collect urine from the bladder continuously.
  • External Catheters, commonly known as condom catheters, are catheters applied to the outside of the body. This type of catheter covers the penis head like a condom, and is connected by a long thin tube to a leg or drainage bag. External catheters are typically used by men who experience urine leakage, rather than urinary retention.

How Do I Know Which Type Of Catheter Is Right For Me?


The different catheter types match different lifestyles, medical conditions, and personal physiology, so if you think you need to use catheters, it is best to consult your urologist about the different options out there.

How Do I Get Urinary Catheters?


Catheters are a prescription medical device, so your urologist will provide you with a prescription for your catheter supplies.

As catheters come in a variety of styles and sizes, and there is no one-size-fits-all catheter, you will have the opportunity to try out different catheters before deciding which is best for you. Samples can be obtained from your doctor’s office or online .

Once you’ve determined which catheter is right for you, your prescription will be handed off to a medical supplier (DME) who will coordinate your billing, insurance, and delivery to your door.