Urinary catheter : Risks

The main risk of using a urinary catheter is that it can sometimes allow bacteria to enter the body.

This can cause an infection in the urethra, bladder or, less commonly, in the kidneys. These types of infection are known as urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs caused by using a catheter are one of the most common types of infection that affect people staying in hospital. This risk is particularly high if your catheter is left in place continuously (an indwelling catheter).

Symptoms of a catheter-associated UTI include:

  • pain low down in your tummy or around your groin
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • feeling cold and shivery 
  • confusion

Contact your GP or community nurse if you think you have a UTI. You may need a course of antibiotics.

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Other risks and side effects

Bladder spasms, which feel like stomach cramps, are also quite common when you have a catheter in your bladder. The pain is caused by the bladder trying to squeeze out the balloon. You may need medication to reduce the frequency and intensity of the spasms.

Leakage around the catheter is another problem associated with indwelling catheters. This can happen as a result of bladder spasms or when you open your bowels. Leakage can also be a sign that the catheter is blocked, so it's essential to check that it's draining.

Blood or debris in the catheter tube is also fairly common with an indwelling catheter. This could become a problem if the catheter drainage system becomes blocked

Get medical advice as soon as possible if you think your catheter may be blocked, or if you're passing large pieces of debris or blood clots.

Other, less common, potential problems include:

  • injury to the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) when the catheter is inserted
  • narrowing of the urethra because of scar tissue caused by repeated catheter use 
  • injury to the bladder or rectum (back passage) caused by incorrectly inserting the catheter
  • bladder stones (although these usually only develop after years of using a catheter)
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