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Catheter Sizes - Choosing the Perfect Fit

Updated on April 9, 2011

Worse than dealing with incontinence itself is often the fear of leaks. It does not matter whether an indwelling or external catheter is used – obtaining the proper fit is critical. Each of these devices has its own unique way of determining fit, but it still may boil down to trial and error before the right size is chosen that is both comfortable and able to maintain dryness.

Sizing External Catheters

External catheters are generally fairly simple to size. Many manufacturers will provide downloads that are in essence paper rules that can be wrapped around the penis to determine size. There will be instructions provided that will vary slight depending upon which style of catheter is used. The scale will show what diameter cath is recommended based on the patient's size. This diameter is expressed as millimeters. Some common sizes are 29-32mm, but there is a whole host of sizing options available. The important thing is that the catheter not be to snug especially in the case of a condom catheter. If they squeeze too tightly they can impede the free flow of urine and cause great discomfort to the patient. Likewise if they are not tight enough they can easily slip off and let urine leak onto the patient and through there clothing. It may take a time or two with different sizes to find the best option that provides both protection and comfort. This may prove especially difficult with reusable condom catheters because over time they may stretch slightly and no longer fit as snugly. Fortunately, these types normally use a method other than adhesives to stay in place.

Sizing Indwelling Catheters

Foley catheters and other indwelling catheters are usually measured on the French system. Again, it is very important that these not be too large or too small. These catheters are inserted through the urethra and into the bladder. The patient can experience pain if the cath is too large. The sizes are listed in increments of two and commonly start at 16 and proceed to 30 French. This measurement refers to the circumference. There are larger and smaller ones available for special purposes like infant catheters.

Urologists can generally fit a cath accurately and if there is doubt a consultation with a professional is best. Almost any size of catheter can be purchased online and delivered to a patient's home in just a few days. Before committing to a bulk purchase just make sure the size is correct.


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