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What is a Foley Catheter Used for and How Does it Work?

A foley catheter is a soft, hollow tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine, in instances where people are unable to empty their bladder.

Using a foley catheter at first can be a daunting experience which may raise many questions.

So, here is your very own guide answering any questions you may have asked or wondered.

What is a Foley Catheter?

balloon, Foley catheter, leg bag , urinary incontinence, urethra

A Foley catheter is a sterile tube that is inserted into your bladder to drain urine. It is also called an indwelling urinary catheter. In many cases, the bladder is accessed via the urethra but, in other cases, the catheter is inserted directly into the bladder via the abdominal wall. This is known as a suprapubic catheter. A foley catheter is held in place by a balloon which is inflated after insertion with sterile water. Foley catheters are usually made from latex or silicone, it is important to ensure a silicone catheter is chosen if the person being cathetrised has a latex allergy.

What is a Foley Catheter Used For?

Catheters are used for several reasons. The most common is urinary retention, or being unable to empty your bladder.  This can be a result of a medical condition, such as MS, a spinal cord injury or following surgery.

How to Care for a Foley Catheter

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Having a long-term urinary catheter increases your risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and can also lead to other problems, such as blockages. To minimise risk you should do the following, this will also help care for your foley catheter:

  • Wash the skin in the area where the catheter enters your body with soap and water every day
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after touching your catheter equipment
  • Make sure you stay well hydrated – you should aim to drink enough fluids so that your urine stays a pale colour
  • Avoid constipation – staying hydrated can help with this, as can eating high-fibre foods, such as fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods
  • Avoid having kinks or bends in the catheter.

It is also important to ensure that the catheter is secured using a catheter fixation device. Lack of catheter securement can lead to damage and inflammation to the urethra and meatus. This could cause pain, discomfort and a high risk of infection for the patient1.

A handy user guide, full of tips and advice on managing your foley catheter can be downloaded here.

How Long Can a Foley Catheter be Left in Place?

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Most long-term catheters need changing at least every 12 weeks. Your healthcare professional will advise the frequency that your catheter needs changing and will issue with a catheter passport so  those involved in your catheter care can keep track of any catheter changes. Never attempt to change the catheter yourself unless you have been trained to do so.

What Are my Options for Foley Catheter Drainage?

Foley Catheter Drainage

Once a catheter is inserted into the bladder, urine will continually flow through it. There needs to be something attached to the catheter to collect the urine. There are two types of drainage systems to use with a catheter; a drainage bag or a catheter valve. Which one is right for you will depend on your bladder tone and capacity, how mobile you are and preference. You can discuss the options available to you with your healthcare professional.

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What is a Foley Catheter Used for and How Does it Work?