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The History of Catheters

For someone suffering from acute urinary retention, nothing spells relief quite like a catheter. Today's catheters are safe, indispensable diagnostic and treatment tools in many specialties, employed as much to inject fluid as to drain it. In cardiology, for instance, they're the conduit for radiopaque dye to magnify coronary arteries and miniature stents to unblock them. But the history of the catheter belongs to urology—and the process of draining a painfully distended bladder dates to antiquity. Catheterization is one of civiliation's first therapeutic interventions.

Ancient Chinese wrote of using onion stalks, and the Hindus, Egyptians, Romans and Greeks described tubes of wood and precious metals. In America, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin designed a silver coil catheter for his brother in 1752 and likely used it later himself, remarking once that "only three incurable diseases have fallen to my share … the gout, the stone, and old age." By the mid-1800s, catheters had a urological niche, with innovators producing the first variations. Woven, soaked and dried, Louis Mercier's coude or elbow catheter

But only after Charles Goodyear earned a 1851 patent for vulcanized or moldable hard rubber coude catheters be custom-shaped. While today's materials may be superior, Goodyear's innovation opened the door for mass production of curved models for many tasks.

No other invention, however, had the staying power of Minneapolis urologist, Frederick E.B. Foley's rubber balloon catheter. With its introduction in June 1935, doctors finally had an in-dwelling hemostatic device that could be held in place by its own configuration—not bandages or tape. Nothing matched Foley's single, continuous design in ensuring drainage post-op or short term. Though he ultimately lost in a battle with industry firm C.R. Bard for the catheter's patent, decades later a balloon catheter is still referred to simply as a "Foley."

Before Foley, Frenchmen Malecot and de Pezzar laid the groundwork with their "four-winged" and "mushroom" models. Before them (1853), Jean Reybard inflated a bladder bag to create the "grandfather" of retained devices.

Catheterization was deemed safe and acceptable, largely because of the antiseptic principles advocated in 1867 by Glasgow's Joseph Lister. While skeptics, including some urologists, scoffed at swabbing surfaces prior to procedures, today urologists insist on absolute disinfection to prevent microorganisms from infecting the urinary tract.

Well into the early 1900s, chronic sufferers from bladder outlet obstruction self-catheterized—like Franklin's brother—with concealed catheters they carried on them in hatbands, canes or umbrellas.

But would Listerian procedures be crucial in treating patients with permanent abnormal bladder function? Post-World War II urologists faced that question on a grand scale as ex-soldiers with unprecedented spinal cord injuries returned home as a new catheter population. These paralyzed patients needed more than occasional treatment for calculi, prostatic obstructions or urethral inflammation. They were treated with catheter drainage of their dysfunctioning bladders.

For decades, urologists advocated sterile intermittent techniques because of potential bacteria. But only when University of Michigan urologist Jack Lapides introduced clean intermittent self-catheterization in 1971 did it come to light that germs were not the only cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs), but that persistent stagnant urinary residuals were also culprits. Lapides also showed that intermittent catheterization, even if not done in totally sterile conditions, was still safer than an indwelling catheter.

Lapides proved, first with a multiple sclerosis sufferer, that neurogenic bladder patients didn't require cumbersome sterilization techniques. Instead, they could routinely self-catheterize with a simple, clean approach based on mapping their own urethral landmarks and suffer no bacterial consequences. By learning his technique in a day, they'd have personal control for life.

Few measures would be as helpful as clean intermittent self-catherization. Three decades after the initial rancorous debate over the technique, millions of neurogenic patients can testify to its merits.

Catheters : The REAL Medical Usage of Catheters (vs. the Catheter Play)

A urinary catheter is any tube system placed in the body to drain and collect urine from the bladder.


A Foley catheter is a soft plastic or rubber tube that is inserted into the bladder to drain the urine. Urinary catheters are sometimes recommended as way to manage urinary incontinence and urinary retention in both men and women. There are several different types of catheters which may be used for a variety of different reasons.


Urinary catheters may be used to drain the bladder. This is often a last resort because of the possible complications associated with continuous catheter usage. Complications of catheter use may include: urinary tract and/or kidney infections, blood infections (septicemia), urethral injury, skin breakdown, bladder stones, and blood in the urine (hematuria). After many years of catheter use, bladder cancer may also develop.

Your health care provider may recommend use of a catheter for short term use or long term use (indwelling). The catheter may be left in place during this time, or you may be instructed on a procedure for placing a catheter just long enough to empty the bladder and then remove it (clean intermittent self catheterization).

Catheters come in a large variety of sizes (12 Fr., 14 Fr.,... 30 Fr.), materials (latex, silicone, Teflon) and types (Foley catheter, straight catheter, coude tip catheter). It is recommended that you use the smallest size of catheter, if possible. Commonly, a size 14 Fr. or size 16 Fr. catheter is used. Some people may require larger catheters to control leakage of urine around the catheter or if the urine is thick and bloody or contains large amounts of sediment. Be aware that larger catheters are more likely to cause damage to the urethra. Some people have developed allergies or sensitivity to latex after long term latex catheter use; these people should use the silicone or Teflon catheters.


A catheter that is left in place for a period of time may be attached to a drainage bag to collect the urine. There are two types of drainage bags. One type is a leg bag, which is a smaller drainage device that attaches by elastic bands to the leg. A leg bag is usually worn during the day since it fits discreetly under pants or skirts, and is easily emptied into the toilet. The other type of drainage bag is a larger drainage device (down drain) that may be used during the night. This device is usually hung on the bed or placed on the floor.


Most experts advise against routine changing (replacing) of the catheters. If the catheter is clogged (obstructed), painful, or infected it may require immediate replacement. Routine care of the indwelling catheter MUST include daily cleansing of the urethral area (where the catheter exits the body) and the catheter itself with soap and water. The area should also be thoroughly cleansed after all bowel movements to prevent infection. Experts no longer recommend using antimicrobial ointments around the catheter as they have not been shown to actually reduce infections.

You should increase your fluid intake, unless you have a medical condition prohibiting large amounts of fluid intake, to reduce the risk of developing complications. You should discuss this issue with your health care provider.

The drainage bag must always stay lower than the bladder to prevent a back flow of urine back up into the bladder. The drainage device should be emptied at least every eight hours, or when the device is full. Care must be taken to keep the outlet valve from becoming infected. Wash your hands before and after handling the drainage device. Do not allow the outlet valve to touch anything. If the outlet becomes obviously dirty, it should be cleaned with soap and water.


Some experts recommend cleaning the drainage bag periodically. Remove the drainage bag from the catheter (attach the catheter to a second drainage device during the cleansing). Cleanse and de-deodorize the drainage bag by filling the bag with 2 parts vinegar and 3 parts water. Chlorine bleach can be substituted for the vinegar and water mixture. Let this solution soak for 20 minutes. Hang the bag with the outlet valve open to drain and dry the bag.


Some people have occasional leakage of urine around the catheter. This may be caused by a catheter that is too small, improper balloon size, or bladder spasms. If bladder spasms occur, you should check to see that the catheter is draining properly. If there is no urine in the drainage bag, the catheter may be obstructed by blood or thick sediment, or kinking of the catheter or drainage tubing. If you have been instructed on irrigation (flushing the catheter) procedure, try to irrigate the catheter and see if this helps. If you have not been instructed on irrigation and urine is not flowing into your collection device, you should contact your health care provider immediately. Other causes of urine leakage around the catheter include constipation or impacted stool, or urinary tract infections.


Notify your health care provider if you develop any of the following:

the urine has a strong smell or becomes thick and/or cloudy.
fever, chills
urethral swelling around the catheter
bleeding into or around the catheter
catheter draining little or no urine despite adequate fluid intake
leakage of large amounts of urine around the catheter.


1. Assemble all equipment: catheter, lubricant, sterile gloves, cleaning supplies, syringe with water to inflate the balloon, drainage receptacle.

2. Wash your hands. Use betadine or similar cleansing product (unless instructed otherwise) to clean the urethral opening.

3. Apply the sterile gloves. Make sure you do not touch the outside of the gloves with your hands.

4. Lubricate the catheter.

5. Hold the penis on the sides, perpendicular to the body. Stretch the penis away from the body.

6. Begin to gently insert and advance the catheter.

7. You will meet resistance when you reach the level of the external sphincter. Try to relax by deep breathing, and continue to advance the catheter.

8. Once the urine flow starts, continue to advance the catheter to the level of the "Y" connector. Hold the catheter in place while you inflate the balloon. Some men have developed urethral injuries due to the balloon being inflated in the urethra. Care must be taken to ensure the catheter is in the bladder. You may try to irrigate the catheter with a few ounces of sterile water. If the solution does not easily return, you may not have the catheter far enough in the bladder.

9. Secure the catheter, and attach the drainage bag.


Indwelling catheters may be removed in two ways. One method is to attach a small syringe to the inflation port on the side of the catheter. Draw out all the fluid until you are unable to withdraw any more fluid. Slowly pull the catheter out until it is completely removed.

Some health care providers instruct their patient's to cut the inflation port tubing before it reaches the main tubing of the catheter. After all the water has drained out, slowly pull out the catheter until it is completely removed. Be careful not to cut the catheter anywhere else.

If you cannot remove the catheter with only slight pulling, notify your health care provider immediately.

Notify your health care provider if you are unable to urinate within 8 hours after catheter removal, or if your abdomen becomes distended and painful.

The above information is taken directly from the medical information supplied by the US government!

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