Urinary catheters

Sometimes a person needs help passing urine. This may be because of a blockage, or because they cannot control their urination.

A urinary catheter is a hollow, flexible tube that is inserted into their urethra to allow the urine to flow. (Your urethra is the part of your body that connects your bladder to the outside.) When the catheter is in place, the urine flows freely into a collection bag.

  • If you or a family member needs a catheter because of a blockage, it will probably be left in for only a short time – until the blockage is sorted out.
  • Some people need a permanent catheter. This may be because they have a condition like paralysis, or incontinence caused by a stroke. Permanent catheters are usually replaced every 6 to 12 weeks. (The doctor or district nurse arranges a catheter change schedule for the person.)
  • Catheters can also be used on an ‘in-and-out’ basis. This means they’re inserted to empty the person’s bladder, then removed. (A schedule is used to ensure the catheter is used at the appropriate intervals.)

Catheter care at home

If you, or someone you care for, has a permanent urinary catheter or regularly uses a catheter, it's important to follow the guidelines your doctor or district nurse gives you. This will help avoid infections and blockages.

Catheter bags

Catheters have a day bag and a night bag.

  • The day bag is attached to your leg with straps. It should be changed every week.
  • The night bag is an extra tube and bag that is attached to the bottom of the day bag overnight. It provides more space for collecting urine, so you don’t have to empty the bag during the night.
    • The night bag should also be changed every week.
    • Wash the night bag every morning with warm water containing a small amount of liquid soap and a dessertspoon of white vinegar.

Catheter comfort

If there is any pulling or tension on the catheter, it could be painful.

To avoid this:

  • make sure your day bag is strapped to your leg properly
  • empty the bag regularly so the weight of a full bag doesn’t pull on the tube.

Catheter leaks

Urine can sometimes leak out around your catheter tube.

  • If your urine is draining properly and there's only a little leakage, talk to your district nurse or doctor next time you see them.
  • If the leakage is painful or your urine isn't draining into the catheter, check for a blockage. (More on blockages below.)


  • Wash your hands carefully before and after emptying or changing catheter bags.
  • If you're the person with the catheter:
    • shower every day, if possible
    • don't use any creams or ointments around your catheter (unless prescribed by your doctor).


  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your urine flowing. (Many people find cranberry juice helpful in preventing infections.)
  • Try to avoid getting constipated, as this can affect the drainage of the catheter.


If you have a catheter, you're more likely to get a urinary tract infection.

See your doctor if you:

  • notice that your urine is cloudy or smelly or has blood in it
  • have any pain around your catheter, bladder or lower back
  • have a fever, chills or shivering.

Catheter blockages

If your urine isn't draining into the catheter bag, there may be a blockage in the catheter system.

A catheter blockage must be dealt with immediately, as it can quickly become very painful and potentially dangerous.
  • Follow the instructions from your doctor or district nurse for flushing out the catheter and checking all the tubes and valves.
  • If this doesn’t work, call your doctor or district nurse straight away, as your catheter will probably need to be changed.

At weekends or after hours, or if your doctor or district nurse isn't available for some time, go to the Emergency Department.

Source: The information in this topic sheet on catheter care was sourced from: Hutt Valley DHB Community Health Services Managing your catheter at home.

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