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The New Normal: Life with a Urinary Catheter

July 05, 2022

If your doctor has fitted you with a urinary catheter, it’s not uncommon to feel upset, stressed or even hopeless. You may find yourself asking, “Will I get my normal life back?”

The answer: Yes, you can continue to enjoy your life when using a urinary catheter. 

Whether your catheter is a temporary measure or a permanent fix, two things are likely: You’re going to feel much better, but you may also feel self-conscious or embarrassed. A catheter is a big change. Give yourself some time to adjust to the new normal of a catheter.

Most people with catheters discover they can resume a normal life and go out to their favorite places, vacation, exercise and even maintain intimate physical relationships with their partners. Here, we discuss ways to regain a “normal” life following a catheter placement.

Why Do I Need a Catheter?

Your doctor may recommend a catheter – which drains your bladder -- for several reasons, including urinary retention or incontinence, prostate or genital surgery, and conditions that make it difficult to void such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or dementia.  

Depending on your diagnosis, your catheter was placed on either a short-term or long-term basis. Catheter types range from:

  • Indwelling/Foley catheters, inserted into the bladder through the penis and urethra. The inserted tube carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Suprapubic catheters. This is inserted surgically through a small incision in your abdomen and connected directly to your bladder, bypassing the penis.
  • Intermittent catheterization is often used by younger patients. This option allows you to more easily catheterize yourself using an intermittent (disposable) catheter. This is normally done on a schedule from one to four times daily.

How Do I Take Care of My Catheter?

When it comes to managing your catheter journey, there are many support systems, including:

  • Family. If they (and you) are comfortable helping take care of your catheter, family is a great option for many people.
  • Home health workers. If family isn’t an option, home health care is available to help maintain, clean and replace catheters as needed.
  • Providers. If there are any newly identified symptoms, treatments, developments or support groups in your area, your provider is going to be a valuable source for accessing that information.

What If I Don’t Want a Catheter?

We get it, having a catheter placed can be intimidating and scary. But it’s also necessary if you want to live a healthier, more-comfortable life. Common, easily-addressable catheter concerns include:

  • Pain. Tell your doctor. They can help ease your discomfort.
  • Big Collection Bag. Your doctor can help you get a smaller, less noticeable bag.
  • Potential Leakage. Talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe different medications to help.
  • Stigma. This is a big one. But when your quality of life depends on the catheter, it’s often the best option. Talk to your medical team. They can make catheter use an easier adjustment.

Will I Be Able to Live a Normal Life?

Having a catheter placed can feel life-changing. But the benefits frequently outweigh the drawbacks. And you absolutely can live a normal life with a catheter placement.

Here are a few tips on how to navigate life with a urinary catheter:

  • Support Groups. Social media is full of them. Find a support group and talk about your issues. Odds are high that you’ll find someone who has encountered and overcome that hurdle.
  • Check Out Online Shopping Sites. They have some amazing gadgets and stylish carriers that help make wearing a catheter less stressful and virtually invisible to others.
  • Be Prepared. Plan to empty your catheter regularly. Also:
    • Pack extra catheters in case of unforeseen emergencies.
    • Plan for leakage and pack extra clothes (make an appointment with your provider to determine and address leakage causes).
  • Hydrate. Hydration can help decrease catheter-associated irritation and discomfort, plus reduce your risk for infections.
  • Enjoy Intimate Relationships. If you have a suprapubic catheter or are performing self-catheterization, having a normal sex life is absolutely possible. Even with an indwelling catheter, you can make intimacy more comfortable for you and your partner. Ask your doctor for guidance.

Finding Your Way Back to ‘Normal’

Some patients have been using catheters for their entire lives, so it’s second nature to them. But when you’re new to having a catheter, it can be difficult. Just like with any other prosthetic, once the learning curve is tackled, you’ll get used to the change and won’t let it hold you back.

In short: Live your life. Normal living does not – and should not – stop once a catheter is placed.

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