What You Should Know About Intermittent Catheterization with SCI

If you have a spinal cord injury (SCI) and your healthcare provider has told you that you need to use a catheter, there are some basic facts you should know about your product options.


Learn about your catheter choices.

After your SCI, your healthcare team will help you determine whether you are able to empty your bladder regularly and completely on your own. If your bladder is not able to empty fully by itself, you may need a catheter. A catheter is a small hollow tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine.

There are two basic types of catheterization. If the catheter is intended to stay in the bladder for hours, days, or longer, it is called an indwelling catheter. If the catheter is inserted to drain the bladder and then removed, this technique is called intermittent catheterization (IC). A third option, for men only, is a male external catheter.

Intermittent catheterization*

If your bladder doesn’t empty properly, intermittent catheterization will keep your bladder and kidneys functioning properly. It also will help prevent complications. It’s important to learn how and where to insert the intermittent catheter, so you’ll be taught by a healthcare professional. You will need to be able to reach your urethra (at the tip of the penis for men and in front of the vagina for women) and manipulate the catheter.

Some women cannot see their own urethra, so learning to self-catheterize by touch or by using a mirror is common. If you’re unable to catheterize yourself, a trained caregiver or family member can be taught to help with intermittent catheterization.

A few more facts:

  • If your bladder doesn’t drain any urine at all, you may need to self-catheterize four to six times each day. If your bladder doesn’t empty completely by urinating, you may need to catheterize one to four times a day. Be sure to follow the recommended directions of your healthcare professional.
  • IC supplies may be carried discreetly in a pocket or bag
  • You can drain your urine through the catheter and into a toilet or urinal, or into a disposable bag. You also can use a closed IC system that has an integrated collection bag
  • People of all ages can learn intermittent catheterization
  • Intermittent catheters come in a variety of designs, including uncoated, hydrophilic-coated, non-hydrophilic-coated, and pre-lubricated

Click here to read about intermittent catheterization techniques

Indwelling catheters

If you’re not able to insert and remove a catheter to drain your bladder, an indwelling catheter might be right for you. An indwelling catheter is held in the bladder by an inflatable balloon and provides continuous drainage of urine. Long-term indwelling catheters are replaced once a month or as recommended by your healthcare professional.

All indwelling catheters require a drainage bag. There are two types: a leg bag and a large drainage bag. A leg bag is discreetly strapped under pants or a skirt, and easily empties into the toilet. A large drainage bag is used during the night and is typically hung on the bed railing or frame.

All indwelling catheters carry risks of complications, which should be discussed with your healthcare team. These include urinary tract infections (UTIs), urethral injury, bladder stones, or blood in the urine.

Male external catheters

There is also another type of catheter called a male external catheter. It is designed specifically for men who have urine leakage from the penis. This catheter is like a condom, and is applied to the shaft of the penis. It is worn discreetly under clothing and connected to a leg bag or a bedside drainage collector.

Which catheter is right for you?

Deciding what type of catheter to use can be confusing. What’s important to understand is that each type of catheter is designed to make bladder management easier depending on your unique injury, circumstances, and needs. Your healthcare team can help you narrow your choice to the catheter that will work best for you.

*Prior to using an Intermittent Catheter, read the Instructions for Use for information regarding Intended Use, Contraindications, Warnings, Precautions, and Instructions.