Using Foley and Other Types of Urinary Catheters

When and Why Catheters Are Used

When a person is unable to urinate, the problem can quickly become a serious one. As urine builds up in the bladder, the condition becomes uncomfortable, then painful. If the problem continues, the bladder can become overly full and urine can back up into the kidneys, causing damage that can be permanent.

When this happens, a urinary catheter is inserted into the bladder. This is a sterile and flexible tube that is inserted into the urethra (where urine comes out of the body) and is gently pushed into the body until the end rests in the bladder. There the tube can drain urine from the bladder into a bag attached to the catheter.

Urinary Catheters and Surgery

Urinary catheters are often used during surgery, as the patient is unable to control their ability to urinate during anesthesia. For this reason, a foley catheter is typically placed prior to surgery and keeps the bladder empty during the procedure. It often remains in place until the surgery is completed and the patient is awake and alert enough to begin urinating as they normally would.

Foley Catheter

A foley catheter is a sterile urinary catheter that is intended to stay in place for an extended period of time. The tip of the catheter has a balloon on it so that the balloon can be inflated in the bladder and hold the foley in place. This type of catheter is also referred to as an indwelling catheter.  Urine then drains from the bladder through the tube and into a collection bag.

This type of catheter is used when a patient is unable to urinate on their own, either because they are too sick, sedated, or unable to urinate without assistance because of a medical issue.

Straight Catheters

If the patient needs to be catheterized once, and the catheter does not need to remain in place, a straight catheter, or straight cath, is used instead and removed once the bladder is emptied. There is a small risk of a urinary tract infection each time a catheter is inserted, regardless of the type of catheter.

Other Types of Urinary Catheters

Risks of Urinary Catheters

A urinary catheter, whether it is a foley catheter or a temporary straight catheter, is known to increase the risk of a urinary tract infection. Despite the fact that sterile technique is used to insert urinary catheters, the introduction of a foreign body into the urinary tract increases the risk of infection. The longer a foley catheter stays in the bladder, or the greater the number of times a temporary catheter is inserted, the greater the chance of infection.

Reasons Why a Urinary Catheter May Be Used

Urinary retention, or being unable to empty the bladder, is one of the most common reasons that a catheter is used. There are additional reasons that a patient may have a catheter. Many ICU patients, who are too sick to use a bedpan, will have a foley catheter to manage their urine. Other conditions that make using a bedpan painful, such as a broken hip, will require the use of a urinary catheter. If a patient is incontinent of urine and has a wound that could be in contact with urine, 

Catheters are sometimes used to manage incontinence, but this is becoming less common, as the placement of a catheter increases infection risk.

Also Known As: Foley, Foley Cath, straight cath, straight catheter,

Common Misspellings: Folee Cath, Foaley Catheter, Foley Cathater, Foley Cathetar,

Examples: The foley catheter was inserted before surgery, as the patient would be under anesthesia for at least three hours.

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  2. Home Care Delivered. What is a straight catheter?

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI). Updated October 16, 2015.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary of recommendations. Updated November 5, 2015.