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Foley Catheter Insertion

What is a Foley catheter?

A Foley catheter is a sterile (germ-free) tube that is inserted through your urethra and into your bladder to drain urine. The catheter has a small balloon that is filled with solution to hold the catheter inside your bladder. A Foley catheter is also called an indwelling urinary catheter.

Urinary System

Why do I need a Foley catheter?

You may need a catheter if:

  • You have a short-term condition that does not allow you to urinate.
  • Caregivers need to keep track of how much you urinate because of a medical condition.
  • Caregivers need to keep track of how much you urinate before, during and after you have surgery.
  • You are not able to be active for a long period of time, such as after back surgery or a serious injury.
  • You have wounds in your genital-anal or sacral (bony part of the buttocks) area.
  • Caregivers need to increase your comfort during hospice or palliative (end-of-life) care.

How is a Foley catheter placed?

  • The caregiver will wash his hands. He will open a sterile package that contains the catheter and insertion supplies. He will then put on sterile medical gloves. The caregiver will clean around your urethral opening with germ-killing or sterile solution before he inserts the catheter.
  • Men: You will sit or lie down for the procedure. The caregiver may put a drape on your stomach to keep the area clean. He will clean the penis. He will then hold the penis up away from your body to insert the catheter.
  • Women: You will lie on your back with legs spread and knees bent. The caregiver may put a drape over your genital area to keep them clean. The caregiver will then clean the area around your urethra.
  • The caregiver will put lubricant jelly on the catheter to help it go in smoothly. He will insert the end of the catheter with the balloon into your urethra. The catheter will be advanced slowly and gently into your bladder. You may be asked to take slow, deep breaths or to push as if you were trying to urinate as the catheter is inserted.
  • When the caregiver sees urine flowing from the catheter, he will fill the balloon at the end of the catheter. The balloon holds the catheter in place so it does not come out. The caregiver will attach the open end of the catheter to a sterile drainage bag or other sterile device.

How do I care for my Foley catheter and drainage system?

  • Position of the drainage bag and tubing:
    • Allow gravity drainage: The drainage bag has a long piece of plastic tubing that connects to your Foley catheter. Do not loop or kink the tubing so that urine can flow out.
    • Keep the drainage bag below the level of your waist: This will stop urine from moving back up the tubing and into your bladder.
    • Keep the bag off the floor: Do not let the drainage bag touch or lie on the floor.
  • Care of the drainage bag:
    • Empty the drainage bag when needed: The weight of a full drainage bag can pull on and hurt your urethra. Empty the drainage bag every 3 to 6 hours or when it is ½ to ⅔ full.
    • Clean and change the drainage bag as directed: Ask your caregiver how often you should change the drainage bag. You may buy a special solution to clean the drainage bag, or you may make a solution with tap water and vinegar or household bleach. Wear medical gloves if you must disconnect the tubing. Do not allow the end of the catheter or tubing to touch anything. Clean the ends with a new alcohol pad or as directed by your caregiver before you reconnect them.

What else should I do to care for my Foley catheter and drainage system?

  • Good hand washing is the best way to prevent infection: Keep your hands clean and as free of germs as possible. Always wash your hands before and after you touch the catheter or insertion site. Do this to remove germs on your hands before you touch these items. Do this after you touch these items to remove germs that may have been on them. Wear clean medical gloves when you care for your catheter or disconnect the drainage bag. This will help stop germs from getting into your catheter. Remind anyone who cares for your catheter or drainage system to wash their hands.
  • Keep a closed drainage system: Your catheter should always be attached to other sterile equipment to form a closed drainage system. This means that there are no openings in the path from the tip of the catheter in your bladder to the drainage bag. It is important to keep the drainage system closed. Your urinary system normally is sterile and a closed drainage system prevents germs from getting into it. Do not disconnect any part of the closed system unless it is necessary such as when changing the bag. Germs can enter the system when it is open and cause an infection. Always close the drainage spigot after emptying urine out of the drainage bag.
  • Secure the catheter tube: Secure the catheter tube so you do not pull or move the catheter. This helps prevent bladder spasms (painful cramps). Caregivers will show you how to use medical tape or a strap to secure the tube to your body.
  • Do catheter care every day: Caregivers will show you how to clean the catheter and the area where the catheter goes into your body. Ask how often you should clean it. Clean your catheter and urethral area with soap and water when you shower. Ask your caregiver if you can take a bath while you have a catheter.

What causes a Foley catheter-based infection and how can I help prevent it?

A Foley catheter-based infection can be caused by bacteria (germs) that get into your body along the catheter tube. This may happen when the catheter is being inserted or when it is already in place. An infection can also be caused by bacteria that gets inside the catheter tube when the closed drainage system is opened, such when a urine sample is collected or a drainage bag is changed. Your caregiver will use a sterile method to insert and care for your catheter to help prevent infection. Your catheter should be removed as soon as possible depending on your condition. Your risk for infection increases if the catheter equipment has not been cleaned well. Your risk for infection also increases if you do not wash your hands and wear gloves when you should. Catheter-based infections can cause serious illness or death. The following are ways that you can help prevent infection:

  • Drinking liquids: Adults should drink about 9 to 13 cups of liquid each day. One cup is 8 ounces. Good choices of liquids for most people include water, juice, and milk. Coffee, soup, and fruit may be counted in your daily liquid amount. Ask your caregiver how much liquid you should drink each day.
  • Wash your hands: Proper hand washing with soap and water is the best way to prevent infection. Remind anyone who cares for your catheter or drainage system to wash their hands.
  • Keep the catheter drainage system closed: This will help prevent germs from getting into your catheter.
  • Keep your catheter secured: Use medical tape or a strap to secure the catheter to your body to ensure that it drains well.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • There is less urine than usual or no urine draining into the drainage bag.
  • Urine leaks from or around the catheter tube or drainage bag.
  • The closed drainage system has accidently come open or apart.
  • You see a layer of crystals inside the tubing.
  • Your catheter comes out.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You see blood in the tubing or drainage bag.
  • You suddenly have material that looks like sand in the tubing or drainage bag.
  • Your urine smells bad.
  • Your urine is not straw-colored, or it has changed color.
  • It is painful to urinate or you are urinating more often than usual.
  • You have pain in your hip, back, pelvis, or lower abdomen.
  • You are confused or have other changes in the way that you think.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.