Catheterization, female


Urinary catheterization is the insertion of a catheter through the urethra into the urinary bladder for withdrawal of urine. Straight catheters are used for intermittent withdrawals, while indwelling (Foley) catheters are inserted and retained in the bladder for continuous drainage of urine into a closed system.


Intermittent catheterization is used for the following reasons:

Indwelling catheterization is used for the following reasons:


As of 2002, experts estimated that approximately 96 million urinary catheters are sold annually throughout the world. Women are more likely than men to use them.


The female urethral orifice is a vertical, slit-like, or irregularly ovoid (egg-shaped) opening, 0.16–0.2 in (4–5 mm) in diameter, located between the clitoris and the vagina. The urinary meatus (opening) is concealed between the labia minora, which are the small folds of tissue that need to be separated to view the opening and insert a catheter. With proper positioning, good lighting, and gloved hands, these anatomical landmarks can be identified. Perineal care or cleansing may be required to ensure a clean procedural environment.

Catheterization of the female patient is traditionally performed without the use of local anesthetic gel to facilitate catheter insertion. But since there are no lubricating glands in the female urethra (as are found in the male urethra), the risk of trauma from a simple catheter insertion is increased. Therefore, an ample supply of an anesthetic or antibacterial lubricant should be used.

Once the catheter is inserted, it is secured as appropriate for the catheter type. A straight catheter is typically secured with adhesive tape. An indwelling catheter is secured by inflating a bulb-like device inside of the bladder.


Health-care practitioners performing the catheterization should have a good understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the urinary system, be trained in antiseptic techniques, and have proficiency in catheter insertion and catheter care.

After determining the primary purpose for the catheterization, practitioners should give the woman to be catheterized and her caregiver a detailed explanation. Women requiring self-catheterization should be instructed and trained in the technique by a qualified health professional.

Sterile disposable catheterization sets are available in clinical settings and for home use. These sets contain most of the items needed for the procedure, such as antiseptic agent, perineal drapes, gloves, lubricant, specimen container, label, and tape. Anesthetic or antibacterial lubricant, catheter, and a drainage system may need to be added.

Catheter choices

TYPES. Silastic catheters have been recommended for short-term catheterization after surgery because they are known to decrease incidence of urethritis (inflammation of the urethra). However, due to lower cost and acceptable outcomes, latex is the catheter of choice for long-term catheterization. Silastic catheters should be reserved for individuals who are allergic to latex products.

There are additional types of catheters:

SIZE. The diameter of a catheter is measured in millimeters. Authorities recommend using the narrowest and softest tube that will serve the purpose. Rarely is a catheter larger than size 18 F(rench) required, and sizes 14 or 16 F are used more often. Catheters greater than size 16 F have been associated with patient discomfort and urine bypassing. A size 12 catheter has been successfully used in children and in female patients with urinary restriction.

DRAINAGE SYSTEM. The health-care provider should discuss the design, capacity, and emptying mechanism of several urine drainage bags with the patient. For women with normal bladder sensation, a catheter valve for intermittent drainage may be an acceptable option.

PROCEDURE. When inserting a urinary catheter, the health-care provider will first wash the hands and put on gloves and clean the skin of the area around the urethra. An anesthetic lubricating gel may be used. The catheter is threaded up the urethra and into the bladder until the urine starts to flow. The catheter is taped to the upper thigh and attached to a drainage system.


Women using intermittent catheterization to manage incontinence may require a period of adjustment as they try to establish a catheterization schedule that is adequate for their normal fluid intake.

Antibiotics should not be prescribed as a preventative measure for women at risk for urinary tract infection (UTI). Prophylactic use of antibacterial agents may lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. Women who practice intermittent self-catheterization can reduce their risk for UTI by using antiseptic techniques for insertion and catheter care.

The extended portion of the catheter should be washed with a mild soap and warm water to keep it free of accumulated debris.


Complications that may occur include:

Sexual activity and menopause can also compromise the sterility of the urinary tract. Irritation of the urethra during intercourse promotes the migration of perineal bacteria into the urethra and bladder, causing UTIs. Postmenopausal women may experience more UTIs than younger women. The presence of residual urine in the bladder due to incomplete voiding provides an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Urinary catheterization should be avoided whenever possible. Clean intermittent catheterization, when practical, is preferable to long-term catheterization.

Catheters should not be routinely changed. Each woman should be monitored for indication of obstruction, infection, or complications before the catheter is changed. Some women require weekly catheter changes, while others may need one change in several weeks. Fewer catheter changes will reduce trauma to the urethra and reduce the incidence of UTI.

Because the urinary tract is normally a sterile system, catheterization presents the risk of causing a UTI. The catheterization procedure must be sterile, and the catheter must be free from bacteria.

Frequent intermittent catheterization and long-term use of indwelling catheterization predisposes a woman to UTI. Care should be taken to avoid trauma to the urinary meatus or urothelium (urinary lining) with catheters that are too large or inserted with insufficient use of lubricant. Women with an indwelling catheter must be reassessed periodically to determine if alternative treatment will be more effective in treating the problem.

Normal results

A catheterization program that includes correctly inserted catheters and is appropriately maintained will usually control urinary incontinence.

The woman and her caregiver should be taught to use aseptic technique for catheter care. Nursing interventions and patient education can make a difference in the incidence of urinary tract infections in hospitals, nursing homes , and home care settings.

The sexuality of a woman with an indwelling catheter for continuous urinary drainage is seldom considered. If the patient is sexually active, the practitioner must explain that intercourse can take place with the catheter in place. The woman or her partner can be taught to remove the catheter before intercourse and replace it with a new one afterwards.

Morbidity and mortality rates

Injuries resulting from catheterization are infrequent. Deaths are extremely rare. Both complications are usually due to infections that result from improper catheter care.


An alternative to catheterization is to use a pad to absorb voided urine.

See also Catheterization, male .



Altman, M. Urinary Care/Catheterization. Albany, NY: Delmar, 2003.

Gearhart, John P. Pediatric Urology. Totawa, NJ: Humana Press, 2003.

Hanna, P. M., S. B. Malkowicz, and A. J. Wein. Clinical Manual of Urology, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2001.

Laycock, J., and J. Haslam. Therapeutic Management of Incontinence and Pelvic Pain. New York: Sringer-Verlag, 2001.

Newman, Diane K. Managing and Treating Urinary Incontinence. Baltimore, MD: Health Professions Press, 2002.


Wilde, M. H. and B. L. Cameron. "Meanings and Practical Knowledge of People with Long-term Urinary Catheters." Journal of Wound Ostomy Continence Nursing 30(1) (2003): 33–43.

Johnson, J. R. "Safety of urinary catheters." Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(3) (2003): 300–301.

Munasinghe, R. L., V. Nagappan, and M. Siddique. "Urinary Catheters: A One-point Restraint?" Annals of Internal Medicine 138(3) (2003): 238–239.

Winder, A. "Intermittent Self-catheterisation." Nursing Times 98(48) (2002): 50.


American Board of Urology. 2216 Ivy Road, Suite 210, Chaarlottesviille, VA 22903. (434) 979-0059. .

American Foundation for Urologic Disease. 1128 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. (800) 242-2383. .

American Urological Association. 1120 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. (410) 727-1100. .

National Health Service of Great Britain. .

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing-house. 3 Information Way, Bethesda, MD 20892. (800) 891-5390. .


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L. Fleming Fallon, Jr, MD, DrPH


Urinary catheterization can be performed by health-care practitioners, by home caregivers, or by women themselves in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or personal homes.


User Contributions:

My Grandmother is in renal failure and is a weak 87 yr old who still lives at home alone. We come in daily and see to the needs that she has difficulty doing. These are cleaning (Home/bathing), putting meals together, organizing meds (seperated by am/noon/pm. She wants an indwelling catheter due to incontenance and complications of leg swelling. I know complications of this proceedure is infection, but for someone her age and health problems, would this be beneficial? She has medicaid and now has leg wraps.
I am my wife's homecare provider with MS. Both close to mid 50's and wish to continue intimacy. Can intercourse be accomplished with a Foley catheter in place? Or if the tube needs to be removed, can it be reused?
After catherization of a female patient.The volume of urine passed in the hour is only 30mls. What is the problem and what should the nurse then do to correct or find the problem of lack of drainage.
Christine Salecich
My mother in law has had a catheter for at least a year now and recently she had a bad accident pouring hot water on herself. She has recovered from the accident but now finds that her catheter seems to be blocked if she gets up. She is complaining that she feels pressure in her tummy because her uring is not flowing properly. She is constantly in a laying down position so that her catheter flows. She is 91 years old and is very depressed.
I had an accident 6 years ago in which I broke my back and pelvis. I have made a good recovery apart from I have had to remain on a cathetar which my community nurse changes every 12 weeks. I use a flip flow with the cathetar.
For a few months I have had problems on and off, I find it very uncomfortable walking and wonder if it could be trouble with the cathetar crystalising again, last time I was in agony but I only had my cathetar changed 2 weeks ago. I am getting a lot of pain in my pelvic area, and feel as if I am burning inside. I am 50 years old and probably going through the menopause as I don't seem to get a proper periods anymore. I hope you can give me some advice. I have passed crystals with my urine and sometimes the urine has passed a bit gloopy. I hope you can give me some advice.
Jacqueline Cash
My daughter was catheterized as an infant from some wacko resident Dr who thought she may have had a UTI when she really only had an ear infection. She is now 6 and struggles with night time incontinence and can't seem to thoroughly empty her bladder. It just occurred to me to research if there may be a link between the two. Is it possible that some damage may have occurred that has caused long term issues?
I am 27, have a neurological condition and have had an Indwelling catheter for about 8 years. I was getting sore from being wet all the time and although I regularly bypass so have to wear pull ups still, on the whole the catheter has made life a lot easier. There are drawbacks though. I was having a lot of pain in the beginning and hated having my catheter changed as trying to lie in the position needed to change it was very difficult for me. About two years after having the urethral catheter I had a supra pubic one instead. This is just a small opening on my bikini line it was a straightforward day procedure. The catheter can be wider with a supra pubic so it gets blocked less often. In fact I haven't had a single blocked catheter since switching to a supra pubic whereas it happened fairly often with my urethral one. I do still suffer repeated uti's but am currently prescribed a long term antibiotic (although this site says not to use them - but I trust the urologist lol!)
I just thought I'd mention supra pubics as they can alleviate some of difficulties with urethral catheters so it's good to know if you or someone you know is having problems with theirs.
I am a female 45 wearing a folly cathiter. Waiting super pubic. I am recently getting sharp pain when I move and bladder spasms when standing. The flow is flowing normal. Has anyone had this shape pain in the bladder it's like something is digging in it.
My sister has lupus and bedridden. she has a catheter but because of the horrible irrational of skin breakdown we are looking for something to heal the rawness she has in the labia area. What can we use 1, to help clean her and 2, to help the area heal?
I have intermittently for about 25 years and am so sick of uti's and all the pain and spasms that come with them. I am thinking of getting the supra pubic option. Can anyone give me some feedback on their experiences with the surgery and after effects?
my surgery for a hysterectomy and bladder lift left me with a severed bladder nerve i have had six surgeries just to try to reconnect i also had a pubic shunt{supra}.. it was nice not to cath every hour or so. 28 years ago it was stitched into lower belly and every time i moved the shunt moved and stitches pulled painfully. i also am considering going back with hopes they have improved issue. all surgeries done at mayo clinic.

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