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Urinary Catheter, insertion of


Insertion of an indwelling urinary catheter

Urinary catheterisation is the process of inserting a catheter (hollow tube) into the bladder for the purpose of draining urine. You may hear this catheter being called an ‘IDC’.

What is it?

Urinary catheterisation is the process of inserting a catheter (hollow tube) into the bladder for the purpose of draining urine. You may hear this catheter being called an ‘IDC’.

Why is it done?

A catheter is inserted into a patient’s bladder for a number of reasons, including:

  • To drain urine from the bladder in a critically ill patient so that kidney function can be monitored closely;
  • To monitor how much fluid intake a patient may need;
  • To drain the bladder and keep it empty after surgery;
  • To drain the bladder in a patient who is unconscious and cannot tell the staff that they need to go to the toilet;
  • For someone who is paralysed in the lower half of the body;
  • Incontinence (when urine leaks out because the patient has lost control of the bladder.

These images were sourced from Medline plus

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What is done?

The indwelling catheter is a soft, flexible, hollow plastic (silastic) tube. A nurse or doctor will insert this tube into the bladder through the urethra. The urethra is the opening where urine drains from the bladder. Because of the risk of infection the perineal area (woman) or penis (male) is cleaned with an antiseptic lotion and the procedure is done under sterile conditions. A sterile soluble lubricant is used to ease the passage of the catheter however momentary discomfort is not uncommon. For males a local anaesthetic lubricant is often inserted into the penis as the length of the urethra makes this procedure more uncomfortable for men. Once the catheter is inside the bladder a small balloon, at the tip of the catheter, is filled with water so that the catheter does not fall out. The catheter is then attached to a drainage bag. The doctors and nurses looking after the patient will monitor the urinary drainage and decide when the catheter can be removed.

What are the risks?

  • Failure to catheterize due to a blockage in the urethra. 
    • This is most commonly a problem in older males due to prostate growth.
  • Infection in the urine
  • Trauma to the urethra or bladder

All Intensive Care interventions and procedures carry a degree of potential risk even when performed by skilled and experienced staff.

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How is the urinary catheter removed?

A nurse will remove the water from the balloon and remove the catheter. There will be a momentary sensation only.

Any questions?

If you have any more questions about catheterisation, you can ask one of the many doctors and nurses looking after your friend or relative.


Insertion of an indwelling urinary catheter - Version 1

Published February 2008

Author Meg Tuipulotu CNC Critical Care GWAH

The information contained on this page is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual patient variation.  In addition it reflects Australian intensive care practice which may differ from other countries. It is meant as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one.  ICCMU attests to the accuracy of the information contained here BUT takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual patient.  Please refer to the full disclaimer.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 23:48