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Resource type: Article

Catheter (urinary)

Almost every patient in the Intensive care Unit will have a (urinary) catheter during their stay.

What is a catheter?

A urinary catheter is a flexible tube that is inserted into the bladder to drain urine.It is collected in a clear drainage bag that is usually hung by the side of the bed, where it can be easily seen by the nurse. 

Why are they used in Intensive Care?

Many patients are too unwell or too sleepy to use the toilet normally.It's very important that we accurately check the amount of urine produced by the patient, to ensure that their kidneys are functioning properly. We also check the patient's kidney function via blood tests (to measure blood salts called urea and creatinine).   

What's inovolved in ​catheterisation?

The tube is inserted by a nurse or doctor until it reaches the bladder. A small balloon is inflated with sterile water to keep the tube in place. It's a relatively painless procedure, using an anaesthetic gel, but it may cause some mild, very temporary discomfort.

Are there any complications?

Urinary catheters carry a risk of urinary tract infection (UTI), which we can check for by observing the colour and consistency of the urine, and by taking samples. Great care is taken to prevent infection, and these will be treated with antibiotics. 


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