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Women Who Self-Catheterize Daily

Updated on October 4, 2010

My real reason for writing about this rather unusual, and in the mind of some even somewhat unpleasant subject, is to enlighten those who may be suffering with the same unusual symptoms and are wondering whether or not to see a physician. I have shared my experience with a total of three people outside my immediate family. Days of internet research resulted only in fragments of practical lay information.

My searches were in vain, revealing nothing that I could apply to my daily life. A distended bladder is a condition that is quite simple to understand. The difficulty lies in how to live with it on a day to day basis. So, with all that said, and now with many years experience of self-catheterizing, I decided it’s time someone blogged about it a bit to shed some light on the subject and take some of the mystery and guesswork out of coping with catheterization in practical ways in daily life.

Contrary to what one might tend to think, the day I was diagnosed with a distended bladder I was actually relieved to finally know what was going on with my body. For nearly a year I experienced uncomfortable days and sleepless nights due to the fact that I found it extremely difficult to completely empty my bladder. Thus, I lived with a constant urge to go. While this is not one of the prettiest or cutest subjects to write about, come to find out, a distended bladder is a fairly common problem.

In my case the distended bladder was a result of urinary retention, which clinically means simply that there was an inability to empty the bladder. In my case it probably could have been avoided, which is why I write about and talk with as many young people as I can about this condition. When a person holds their bladder for extremely long periods of time, over the span of many years it becomes stretched and is held in that position for hours at a time. Over time the muscles lose their elasticity and become permanently damaged and the ability to contract and squeeze is lost completely.

For almost a year I had suffered. I self-diagnosed, assuming that since I had been pregnant very late in life, having had a baby at age 43, I could attribute the internal problem to that. Although I recognized my condition was chronic, because I was quite sure it was not life threatening I did not seek professional help. Actually it was in a round about way that I came to be diagnosed. During a well-woman check my doctor, who assumed I had emptied my bladder before my exam, the normal thing to do before the exam, could feel that there was something very wrong going on inside. He ordered some diagnostics and the technician was a bit confused, almost troubled, by my overly-full bladder. Despite the fullness of the bladder, she completed the exam and found that there was nothing wrong with me except that my bladder was full.

It was my obstetrician who referred me to the urologist, who I was able to see later on that very same day. All the internal valves and muscles and parts, including my bladder were examined and not one problem was detected. When he told me he had to catheterize me in order to continue on with the examination it took all the courage I could muster not to over-react. Though it would have been out of character for me to panic, it was certainly difficult to cover up my apprehension and appear not to care; as if I this were not my first rodeo, so to speak, and being catheterized were the most natural thing in the world to me.

Well, there was absolutely nothing to it. In fact, I was elated. For the first time in a year my bladder was completely empty! What an odd sensation; I had completely forgotten what it felt like. In fact, it felt so good that, as I lay on my back on the exam table, I quietly thanked God as relief washed over me and my face, ears and pillow were soon soaked with tears. However, soon I realized that my work had just begun.

Without skipping a beat my new best friends, this very compassionate, little old English doctor and his nurse, who was obviously his right hand man, prepared to teach me how to perform this miracle for myself. Suffice it to say it was not easy, but I was determined to say the least, and this was, after all, my only recourse, the only way out. There was no pill I could take like I had seen on the television. I had none of those symptoms. They were as matter-of-fact as could be. The only solution to my problem was to learn the amazing art of self-catheterization!

So, armed only with a prescription for catheters, I marched myself down the street to a nearby medical supply store for the purchase, as they are not the ordinary item you can obtain at the corner pharmacy. At first, learning to perform this procedure which was going to be carried out several times each day for the rest of my life seemed to be an insurmountable task. It literally took me hours to complete the first few times. I will spare you the frustrating, yet comical details, but as clumsy as my first attempts were, over the next couple of weeks I was able to master wielding 6” catheters like a real pro, soon accomplishing the task one-handed.

However, the next major challenge reared its ugly head in the form of a two year long series of urinary tract infections. Neither my doctor nor my nurse had shared any clear, well-established suggestions as to the way to store the catheter that was currently in use. It was the one thing they could not speak about from experience. The method of storage that was suggested to me was a wet method. I was instructed to wash the catheter well with hot, soapy water after each use, and leave it continually soaking in the pre-insertion antiseptic wipe solution. That all sounds good in theory, but to actually apply that method was inconvenient, to say the least.

FACT: Using a new catheter every time one urinates is ridiculously cost prohibitive.
FACT: Inserting a catheter is mildly invasive and the issue of germs is always at hand.
Fact: A povidone-iodine (antiseptic/germicide) solution, which is a pre-surgical hand scrub, is the best choice for topical application to create a germ-free area before inserting the catheter each time.
FACT: Daily washing and storing the catheter after each use holds the key to avoiding germs, and thus, avoiding the urinary tract infections.


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      Jensen363 8 months ago

      Any other blogs for women who self-catheterize? I'm new at this and looking for all the guidance I can get! Battling UTI's and wondering what works for others, to prevent infection. How do you learn to do this without any mirror?

    • profile image

      Connieq 21 months ago

      I am so glad I found this site! I was diagnosed with an overactive bladder and the medication prescribed caused my bladder to stop working. I was lucky enough to have a nurse instruct me on how to self catheterize. I had a hard time at first but finally got the hang of it. I am on Medicare and Medicare pays for up to 150 catheters a month. (I am 69 ) I tried the stimulator implant and it did not work. I was glad to read about the green tea and plan to try that. I too have a lot of problems with UTI's, but I am also a diabetic.. I carry extra catheters with me and have containers to hold my catheters in all my bathroom. I do have a lot of problems with yeast infections. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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      pigletsfriend 2 years ago

      i have been self cathertising for almost a year now. sometimes I need to have an indwelling catheter in. the thing I am struggling with and get more infections is when I am on my monthly. I no I have a cousin who takes a pill and it stops her periods as she is paralysed from the neck down, because she needs a carer to change her as she has no control over her body functions she wears a indwelling catheter too but not for the number 2s. so they stopped her periods. I no they exist but I am too scared to tell my doctor I just freak when I do it as even when I have cleaned the area I still get blood every where sorry this is gross. but I just can not do it no more. I ask for a indwelling with a tap on regular when I am near my monthly. as anyone else asked the doctor for a pill to stop periods why cathertising? you can not use a tampon wither as it hurts with or without a indwelling one as it pushes against my bladder when I do it myself too so that is out the question!

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      Kate 2 years ago

      I have been having urinary retention for the last month. I was taught to self cath. Unfortunately I also have over active bladder so whenever I go or cath it still feels like I have to go even though very little comes out. I am scheduled for a procedure tomorrow where they put wires in your back and control impulses via a device. I tried an overactive bladder med a month ago and after being on it for only days the retention started and hasn't left.

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      Linda 3 years ago

      It has been 15months since I was diagnosed with a urine retention.I don't need to use a cather any more,but the only way I can go to the toilet is to sit right on the edge of the toilet and pee into a container.I don't know why it works but it does.I just carry a container with me where ever I go.I don't have the feeling of a full bladder but I just make sure I go to the toilet every 4 or 5hrs so my bladder doesn't get too full.I think I am the only one doing this.The drs can't do anything more for me.My bladder muscles are probably damaged from years of a full bladder.At least I can live a normal life with no more bladder infections.

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      mene19 3 years ago

      Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am an RN, and part of my practice is teaching women to self cath. Women (and men) need to know they are not alone; your blog is beautiful.

      Ironically, I will be self-cathing some day due to "Nurse's Bladder" (stretched due to holing urine for 8+ hours during nursing shift).

      What do you wish you had known when you first started? What didn't they tell you? Can I direct patients to this blog post?

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      karina w 3 years ago

      Hi I have had kidney problems since I was a kid and my bladder is twice the size as it should be and as a kid I was thought to self cath and I did morning noon an night but as I got older into my teenage years the Dr wanted me to self cath atleast 5 Times a day for a while I did but stated to be to much so I stopped and now ten years later I have a family to look after and be here for Dr want me to start doing self cath again but throw the years I've had a couple of bad infections and Dr picking and prodding down there and now it hurts to self cath and Dr just don't seem to care they just tell me to do it I know its uncountable but its not ment to hurt and I'm just scared to to it to myself

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      linda 4 years ago

      I have just read your story Sam.My bladder problems may have been caused from when I had my daughter.She is 30yrs old now.I had a epidural as well,I couldn,t go to the toilet after the delivery so had to be cathertrized.I found it very hard to past urine properly after that,But had no idea it would cause urine retention.Keep up the good work with your diet,and start drinking green tea.

      Lucky for me I hope my bladder is healing its self.

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      Sam 4 years ago

      hello, I wanted to share my story I had my beautiful baby girl almost 7 months ago :) ! I had a normal pregnancy fast delivery! I got the epidural and I new the minute I got it something went wrong I felt my whole right side of my back hips and leg leaving only my left side numb! I had her fast felt everything drs told me it was just in my head that I should feel no pain! I had back problems since then till now! last month I was diagnosed with a uti I new I had it as you do get urine retention ! took my meds but my symptoms got worse back pain as well down both my legs no joke could not get up! I ended up in the hospital they collected 70occ of urine! They left my catheter in until I got to a urologist! no prolapse no distended bladder im seeing nuerologist now as he suspects nerve damage I was really upset im starting loose the feeling in my private parts and intimacy is not the same as the feeling comes and goes! I self cath now and im getting use to it ! its not as bad I thought! but ive definitely changed my diet no caffeine what so ever high fiber diet and im now doing bikram yoga acupuncture im not giving up ! my husband has been very supportive thank god! I wish you ladies the best of luck !

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      Linda 4 years ago

      Hi there.2 months ago my dr discovered I had urine retention.Not sure how long I had the problem.I am 54 years old.My first reaction when I had to catheterizes myself was a hugh shock,But once I had the sensation of an empty bladder I felt so good.I decided to measure what I was drinking and what I was passing.And I stopped drinking alcohol,and started drinking green tea.No tea or coffee.Most of our meals are vegetarian.We still eat chicken and fish.

      Once I stared self catheterzing I lost the urge to go to the toilet by myself.So I catheterzed myself 4 times a day.Gradually the sensation has come back.It has been 2 months since I have been diognised,and I have just started going to the toilet myself.So hopefully I will not need to catheterized myself anymore.

      I believe the green tea has made a difference,and keeping your fluid intake around 1500 mls a day.

      I hope this will help someone else,because the Drs don't give you any advice on diet and fluid intake.

      A positive attitude is a must.

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      Betty Sanchez 5 years ago

      Thank you for your response. I'm glad someone is interested.

      Funny you should mention a mirror. You literally have to use one at first. I used one for a long time until I learned to do it automatically. Now I do it with only one hand 100% of the time.

      I think in all honesty the first few times someone uses a catheter, until you get comfortable with it, it would be nice if you could just use a longer one and/or one with some sort of detachable (for re-use) receptacle attached at the other end. I started out my first day sitting "in" the bathtub, and it was messy. It was very frustrating at first. You know where everything is, but it's not nearly as easy to do as it sounds.

      I also think a different method of storage would be wonderful. Someone could probably make a million if they could devise a storage unit you could just "buy" at a medical supply store or drug store. You see what I use in my 'story'. I have continued to use that form of dry storage and it works for me. I rarely have UTI's anymore.

      Tell me a bit more about your goals in helping patients.

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      Liz 5 years ago

      Hi, I work for a medical equipment supplier that distibutes supplies necessary to people's lives such as catheters. I am in Marketing and want to develop something that would be helpful to give to patients who have to self catheterize.

      Looking back on your experience, what is something that you wish you had known or wish you could have had (a mirror or something) to make things easier? What things could have made self catheterizing easier or less scary for you?

      Thank you.

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      M.A. 7 years ago

      No, I do not use a collection bag, I self cath. I am fortunate to have my insurance cover this, as this is a life long life style as i am sure it must be for you. I feel so blessed to have a Dr. who back in the 70's knew about self-cathing and had his nurse introduce me to it. Quite the process to learn, but as you know it is certainly like second nature now. What a relief to feel my bladder emptied and know that if i have to go to the bathroom I can cath and completely void.

      In a public restroom i just wrap it well and toss it in the garbage,know one knows what it is. of course, easiest like you say if there is a receptacle in the stall.

      Interesting for me to know that there are other women who cath, as i guess i assumed there were not many of us out there. Though my doc says she has about 6 patients who do and that surprised me, in a relatively small community. Well, take care

    • Betty Sanchez profile image

      Betty Sanchez 7 years ago

      I'm not sure if we are talking about the same thing, but... I do not use a collection bag. I use a 7" catheter about 5 times per day. I rotate the same 2 catheters for about 30 days. I find that by rotating them one is drying well before I have to use it again. I have heard of people using them for much longer periods of time, like 6 months or so. Actually, you probably could, but using 2 every 30 days is easy on the pocketbook.

      When I am finished with them at the end of my 30 days I do not discard them. I wash them super well, allow them to air dry VERY WELL, then I stow them away in my little toothbrush holder (mentioned above in text & photo) in my purse. It also allows for the few I need to keep on hand for when I need to cath when out in a public restroom. I do throw them away after that. It's just convenient. I try to make sure I have something in my purse to allow me to discard them discretely. One never knows whether or not there is a trash bin in each stall. You know.

      My insurance does NOT cover any of the cost.

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      M.A. 7 years ago

      I have been cathing for 30 + years and probably for abour 2o years using a new cath each time. Do you have insurance that will cover the cost? How do you store when you are out for the day or do you just throw those out after the use?

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      injai 7 years ago

      nowadays, the catheter types have improved significantly. And even sterile technique can be initiated w/different company cath kits. A UTI is not a forgone conclusion anymore. I use a catheter with an insertion tip from Rusche that is hydrophillic~lubricated with water that is inside the collection bag. I also am allergic to iodine/povidine swabs. I use a BZK towelette which is just as antiseptic...also I find less drying. I really like that the collection bag is connected to the catheter b/c I hate the smell of urine in my bathroom, and I find just using the mentor caths into the toilet leaves a urine residue (that's just me). My urologist's NP however continues to prefer mentor caths b/c she feels that they are easier. She continues to teach clean techique (vs. sterile technique) and accepts that colonization of bacteria is a given in the bladder. It's been researched and proven however that the use of an insertion tip into the urethra and then passing the catheter through that (in the kit the catheter and insertion tip are connected) has significatnly reduced uti. The insertion tip helps the catheter bypass most of the germs found in the urethra...anyway, sorry about going on so much, there's a lot of hope here. and there are still mentor like caths that can be attached to very easy to handle cath bags.. p.s. there are insertion tip catheters for those with dexterity issues.

      Take care...