Self-catheterization is a medical procedure that involves inserting a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine.

Clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) involves inserting a catheter into the urethra to reach the bladder. In males, the urethra is the tube that extends from the bladder along the length of the penis and drains urine from the body.

Depending on their ability and comfort level, people can perform this procedure themselves or with assistance.

This article looks at what to know about self-catheterization for males.

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Self-catheterization is necessary for people who are unable to empty their bladder in the usual way, due to various medical conditions or circumstances.

These may include:

  • Neurological conditions: Disorders such as spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and spina bifida can affect the nerves that control bladder function, leading to urinary retention (the inability to empty the bladder) or incontinence (loss of bladder control).
  • Urinary retention: Certain conditions, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia or prostate cancer in males, can obstruct the flow of urine from the bladder, making it difficult or impossible to urinate naturally.
  • Surgery: Some surgeries, especially those involving the pelvic area, can temporarily or permanently affect the ability to control urination or to empty the bladder fully.
  • Medications: Certain medications can impair bladder function, leading to urinary retention.
  • Nerve damage: Conditions that cause nerve damage, such as diabetes or a stroke, may disrupt the typical signaling between the brain and the bladder, affecting the bladder’s ability to empty fully.

Different types of catheters exist. Which one a person uses will depend on their needs, how long catheterization is required, and their specific medical conditions. Types of catheters for males include:

  • Intermittent catheters (IC): In CIC, a person inserts these single-use catheters several times per day to empty their bladder. Once the bladder is empty, they remove the catheter and do not reuse it, which helps reduce the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
  • Indwelling Foley catheters: These remain in place for extended periods (days to weeks). They have a balloon on the end that inflates once a person correctly positions the catheter in the bladder, which helps prevent it from sliding out. Urine drains into a bag attached to the catheter.
  • External catheters (condom catheters): These catheters fit over the penis like a condom and are held in place with adhesive. Nonadhesive types also exist. Urine drains from the catheter into a drainage bag that is attached to the inner thigh. They are less invasive than internal catheters. A person changes the catheter daily.

Read more about urinary catheters.

To prepare to self-catheterize, people should:

  • receive proper training from a healthcare professional on the correct technique
  • use sterile or single-use catheters when possible
  • maintain good hygiene before and after the procedure
  • consult with healthcare professionals regularly to monitor for complications
  • stay hydrated to reduce the risk of UTIs and ensure regular bladder emptying

People should always perform self-catheterization with clean hands to minimize the risk of infection. After a person washes and dries their hands, they should follow these steps:

  1. Gently retract the foreskin, if uncircumcised, and clean the head of the penis with a mild soap or antiseptic wipe.
  2. Hold the penis upward at a 60 to 90-degree angle to the body.
  3. Slowly and gently insert the catheter into the urethra. If there is resistance, pause for a moment and then gently apply steady pressure. Do not force it.
  4. Insert the catheter until it reaches the bladder and urine begins to flow. Then, insert it about an inch further to ensure it is well within the bladder.
  5. Let the urine drain into the toilet or a collection bag. When the flow stops, gently withdraw the catheter. It may be necessary to rotate the catheter slightly or move it in and out a few times to ensure the bladder is completely empty.

Many catheters are for single use. If doctors recommend a reusable catheter, they will advise a person on how to clean it. General steps may include:

  • Rinsing: Immediately rinsing the catheter with cold water removes any residual urine. Cold water helps prevent protein in the urine from sticking to the catheter.
  • Cleaning: Use mild soap and warm water to clean the catheter thoroughly. Avoid using harsh or antibacterial soaps, as they can damage the catheter or irritate the urethra.
  • Second rinse: Rinse the catheter thoroughly with warm water to remove all soap residues.
  • Drying: Allow the catheter to air dry on a clean towel or paper towel.
  • Storage: Store the catheter in a clean, dry, and resealable plastic bag or its original packaging until the next use.

Cleaning and care instructions may vary depending on the catheter type and material, so people should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

If someone experiences pain from self-catheterization, they should consult their healthcare team to ensure they are using the correct technique and to rule out any complications. Doctors should also evaluate any new or worsening symptoms, such as increased urgency, frequency, or incontinence.

Occasional, very light spotting may not be unusual, especially when starting self-catheterization. However, noticeable blood in the urine or persistent bleeding is a concern that needs medical evaluation.

While self-catheterization requires commitment and adjustment, the outlook is generally very positive.

Self-catheterization allows people to manage their bladder function more effectively, reducing incidents of urinary incontinence and the anxiety associated with bladder issues. This can significantly improve a person’s quality of life and independence.

Is it painful to self-catheterize?

Self-catheterization is generally not painful, but it may feel uncomfortable or slightly awkward at first. With proper technique and lubrication, most people find it virtually pain-free.

Can you live a typical life with self-catheterization?

Many people live regular and active lives while managing their bladders with self-catheterization. It may require some adjustments to a person’s schedule and routines, but with planning and practice, self-catheterization becomes a manageable part of daily life.

How many times per day should I self-catheterize?

The frequency of self-catheterization depends on a person’s medical needs and their healthcare team’s recommendations. Typically, it ranges from 4 to 6 times per day, roughly every 4 to 6 hours. However, this can vary based on fluid intake, bladder capacity, and specific health conditions. A doctor can advise on the best schedule.

Do you still have the urge to pee with a catheter?

People using an intermittent catheterization method may still feel the urge to urinate when their bladder is full. A person may typically self-catheterize in response to these natural urges or at timed daily intervals.

For those with an indwelling Foley catheter, the bladder is continuously being drained, so a person is unlikely to feel the urge to urinate. However, some people may still experience bladder spasms or a sensation of fullness that can feel like an urge to urinate.

Self-catheterization allows people to drain the urine from their bladder when they are unable to empty it in the usual way. A male inserts the catheter into the urethra at the head of the penis until it reaches the bladder and allows urine to drain out.

People should ensure they receive training from a healthcare professional, maintain good hygiene, and seek medical help if they experience changes in their bladder habits.

Although self-catheterization may take time to get used to, it has many benefits, such as improved quality of life, more independence, and reduced risk of severe urinary complications.