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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

In urinary catheterization, a catheter (hollow tube) is inserted into the bladder to drain or collect urine. There are two main types of urinary catheterization: indwelling catheterization and clean intermittent catheterization (CIC).

Indwelling catheterization
In this type of catheterization, one end of the catheter remains inside the bladder. A small, inflated balloon at the tip of the catheter inside the bladder keeps the end of the catheter from slipping out. Urine flows from the bladder through the catheter and collects in a drainage bag. If the patient is not bedridden, this drainage bag can be worn on the leg, where it can be hidden under a skirt or slacks. If the patient is bedridden, the drainage bag usually is attached to the lower portion of the hospital bed (near the floor). This position allows gravity to help the urine drain.

An indwelling catheter can be used for short-term or long-term care.

CIC
In CIC, the urinary catheter does not remain inside the bladder. It is inserted into the bladder only long enough to allow the bladder to drain. Then, it is removed. CIC can be done by the patient or by the patient's caregiver.

For short-term catheterization after surgery, and in certain paralyzed patients, CIC often is better than an indwelling catheter. This is because CIC is less likely to cause a urinary-tract infection in these situations.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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