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Understanding Foley Catheters

A Foley catheter is one of the devices used in the management of some urinary disorders affecting both women and men. These are:

  • Urinary incontinence – Uncontrolled urine leakage.
  • Urinary retention – Bladder blockage prevents urine from being voided properly.

Foley catheters can be used during and after many surgical procedures and their advantages and disadvantages have been well documented and recorded. Foley catheters are flexible tubes that are inserted through the urethra (or directly to the bladder via suprapubical incision) and into the bladder for draining urine. Foley catheters are indwelling catheters, meaning, they remain inserted to your bladder for longer periods of time compared to intermittent catheters which are replaced after each micturition. There are 2 types of Foley Catheters:

  1. Indwelling Urethral Foley catheter; inserted into the bladder via the urethra.
  2. Indwelling Suprapubic Foley catheter; inserted directly into the bladder via an incision made right above the pubic bone. Suprapubic catheterization does not involve contact with the urethra and is a minor procedure performed under a local anesthetic.

Once inserted into the bladder, foley catheters remain in place thanks to a special balloon located on the catheter tip. This miniature balloon is then inflated with fluid to anchor itself to the bladder walls

Urethral Foley catheterization has particular drawbacks for women since the foley catheter’s proximity to the vagina and rectum increases the likelihood of a catheter associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI). With this in mind, many physicians will recommend suprapubic catheterization. Prolonged use of catheters can cause complications in the kidneys, bladder, urethra and testes; they include infections, bladder stones and cancer of the bladder to name a few. Some foley catheters are coated with antibiotics in an attempt to reduce the rate of catheter associated urinary tract infections. However, the efficacy of this measure is questionable at best given the current research on the topic.

In closing, foley catheters are made in different shapes and sizes and from a variety of materials. Their purpose is to drain urine from the bladder for persons who are unable to control urination. While indwelling catheterization has its obvious advantages, there are also drawbacks to using a foley catheter. We highly recommend to always ask your doctor which catheter and which catheterization method is best for you.