how to irrigate a catheter

How to irrigate a catheter is the question of everyone who, for whatever reason, is unable to empty their bladder in the usual way. This medical device is often used by men and women in post-operative periods, and it is also used by people with disabilities. 

Intravenous catheters vary, but the suprapubic Foley catheter is used for urination. It consists of a tube that is inserted into the bladder and a drainage bag that is attached to the other end of the tube. Ideally, the drainage bag should be emptied 3-4 times a day. However, there are situations where the urine becomes too turbid or has an unpleasant smell, or does not flow at all. 

In such cases, the first thing to do is to flush a catheter and the drainage tube that is inserted into the bladder. This simple irrigation procedure will improve the performance of the Foley catheter and allow it to function properly over time if the hygiene product can be used many times. How this is done at home is explained in our article. 

Why is urinary catheter irrigation necessary?

Unlike an intravenous catheter, if properly inserted, a Foley catheter will last quite a long time without replacement, as it is naturally irrigated by the flow of fluid from the bladder. However, one way or another the drainage tube can become clogged or dirty, so the product requires regular cleaning and proper maintenance. In addition, the patient needs to wash and change their underwear and clothes often, so they will have to learn how to irrigate the urinary catheters themselves.   

Replacing or continually flushing the Foley catheter can keep the patient safe from the entry of bacteria and infections into the body. If the procedure is not done in time, there is a risk of developing inflammation or complications of the current condition, which can lead to repeated hospitalization and a significant deterioration in well-being. 

How is Foley's catheter inserted?

Before insertion, all hygienic procedures must be performed. The patient's perineum is washed with soap and water and antiseptics. The doctor then puts on sterile gloves and the catheter is taken with forceps. To facilitate insertion, its tip is coated with a special gel. For both men and women, the device is inserted in the same way in the supine position with the legs bent apart. The length and width of the suprapubic catheter vary according to the size of the urethra. 

The tip of the tube is gently inserted into the urethra until fluid flows from the bladder through the tube. A drainage bag is then attached to it. If the outflow of urine through the product is correct, routine replacements are carried out as directed by your doctor or as instructed. For example, latex sanitary pads should be changed weekly, silicone sanitary pads can be used for up to one month, and silver sanitary pads for up to 90 days.     

How to irrigate a catheter at home: step-by-step instructions  

Before you start irrigating, you must take care to buy all the necessary supplies. You will need: 

  • Two sterile syringes with catheter tips;
  • Saline solution to flush the product;
  • A cover for the drainage tube;
  • Disinfectant spray or wipes;
  • A small reservoir for bladder fluid. 

Before starting irrigation, hands should be washed liberally with soap and water and dried with a paper towel. Instead of soap, alcohol-based wipes or sprays can also be used. If you want more protection, wear disposable latex gloves to prepare a special solution to irrigate the catheters. 

Preparing a solution for irrigation

After washing or treating your hands, proceed to prepare the irrigation solution. Follow the instructions:

  1. Open the syringe pack. Take care not to compromise the sterility of the product. Do not allow the syringe tip to come into contact with your skin or other objects. This may lead to infection later on. A syringe with a tip for a suprapubic catheter can be purchased from any pharmacy or supermarket. It does not cost more than $1. When buying, choose a 60 ml syringe. 
  2. Fill the syringe with saline solution. Dip the tip of the syringe into the bottle and pull the plunger down. The saline solution should be recommended by your doctor, follow your doctor's advice. If this is not available, you can use plain water. However, it must be brought to a boil and cooled beforehand. However, this is not the best option for irrigation of suprapubic catheters. 
  3. Tap the syringe to remove air bubbles from the solution. To do this, the product must be held vertically with the tip upwards. Press the syringe piston slightly until the solution appears. 
  4. Return the syringe with the solution to the packaging. To avoid compromising the sterility of the product, cover the tip with the tip cap. This is usually sold in the syringe kit. 

Irrigation of Suprapubic Catheter

As with the preparation of the solution, your hands should be thoroughly washed with soap and water and dried before starting the irrigation procedure. If gloves have been used previously, they should be changed for new ones. Then follow the algorithm step by step:

  1. Prepare a liquid tray and paper towels. Place several layers of tissues under the connection between the suprapubic catheter and the drainage tube. Then place a container under the open end of the tube to allow the liquid from the bladder to drain into it. 
  2. Wipe the connection between the catheter and the drainage tube. Use an alcohol wipe to do this. Clean the area for 15-30 seconds, then let it dry naturally. 
  3. Separate the catheter from the drainage tube. To do this, gently unscrew one part from the other. Place the end of the tube on a clean paper towel and the suprapubic catheter over the bladder fluid collection tank. Make sure that the exposed part of the catheter does not come into contact with the reservoir itself. Make sure the tray is placed below the level of the patient's abdomen.  
  4. Remove excess fluid from the product using an empty syringe. Place it in the open part of the catheter that is above the reservoir and slowly pulls out the piston. Continue the process until the syringe is full. To remove all the fluid from the bladder, ask the patient to sit up. 
  5. Discard the empty syringe and take another one with saline solution. Insert the product into the open opening of the catheter and rotate it until it is securely connected. Remember about sterility: never touch the end of the syringe. 
  6. Inject the saline solution into the suprapubic catheter. To do this, all the contents of the syringe must be squeezed out using the plunger. If you feel resistance, do not try to continue the process. In this case, you should contact your physician to recommend another technique to flush the product or to replace the Foley catheter. 
  7. Wipe the area between the suprapubic catheter and the drainage tube. This can be done with an alcohol wipe. After cleaning, wait a few seconds until the junction is completely dry. 
  8. Remove the syringe and reinsert the tube. To do this, clamp the end of the catheter, slowly unscrew the syringe and gently insert the drain tube. Remember to discard the medical device after use. 
  9. For safety reasons, wash your hands after all procedures. This will help avoid the spread of bacteria and infection from contact with the suprapubic catheter or urine. 

At the end of urinary catheter irrigation, make sure that fluid from the bladder flows freely through the tube into the drainage bag. If this does not happen within 15 minutes, the product should be rinsed again. If this does not help, it is advisable to seek help from your doctor. 

Can I shower with a catheter?

To avoid the development of infections, it is essential to observe body hygiene. If you are using a catheter, you should disconnect the catheter before showering and clamp the tube with a special clip. When washing, gently clean the genitals with soap with a neutral pH. After bathing, the catheter should be dried well and the perineum blotted with a clean towel. A new drainage bag should then be attached. If all the rules are followed, one is allowed to take a shower every day. 

A few tips to prevent infections

To reduce the risks of various diseases when using a catheter, follow these simple rules:

  • Avoid visiting baths, saunas, swimming pools, bodies of water;
  • Avoid running water into the drain tube;
  • Do not treat the area around the catheter with cotton hygiene products - lint can get trapped in the genital mucosa and cause inflammation;
  • Do not use powders or similar products. 

If you follow all measures, no one can guarantee that you are safe from various infections and bacteria. If you experience symptoms such as fever, redness or itching on the genitals, pain in the groin area, or blood in the urine, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Don't wait too long to go to the health center, your health is the most important thing!