Treatments and tests

Troubleshooting for your catheter

If you have a catheter you may experience some common problems with the drainage system from time to time.

Contact your doctor or nurse if the problem is ongoing or cannot be easily resolved.

The catheter won’t go in

This information only applies to those performing clean intermittent self-catheterisation.

If you cannot get the catheter in do not force it.

Remove the catheter and try again in an hour. However if your bladder is full and you are uncomfortable you will need to visit your nearest emergency department for assistance immediately.

Diagram showing cross-section of both female and male abdomen with catheter inserted into the bladder, via the urethra

There is no urine draining

This information only applies to those performing clean intermittent self-catheterisation.

This can happen sometimes because the lubricating gel has blocked the drainage holes on the catheter. As the gel is water-based it will dissolve in the urine but this may take a minute or two. Try coughing as this will help start the flow of urine.

Check that you have inserted your catheter correctly.

If you are female, check you have not inserted the catheter into your vagina by mistake. If you have, you should remove the catheter and try again using a new or clean catheter.

Do not reuse the catheter that has been in the vagina as you may transfer germs from the vagina into the bladder and you may become unwell with a urinary tract infection.

If you are male, check you have inserted the catheter far enough into your urethra. There should be about 10 cm of catheter visible.

If you cannot get urine to drain, remove your catheter slowly and seek advice from your doctor or nurse.

If your bladder is full and you are uncomfortable you will need to visit your nearest emergency department for assistance immediately.

There is no urine draining into my bag

This information applies only to suprapubic or indwelling urinary catheters.

This can happen if there are kinks in the catheter or the drainage bag tubing. Firm fitting underwear can sometimes cause kinks, therefore males are advised to wear loose fitting underwear.

It could also be that your catheter is blocked.

Catheter blockage is an emergency and needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

If there is no urine draining into your bag, take the following steps:

  1. Check for and remove any kinks in the catheter or the drainage bag tubing.
  2. Check the position of your catheter and drainage bag. Ensure the bag is positioned below your bladder when you are lying, sitting or standing.
  3. Check that the leg bag straps are fitted correctly and are not causing drainage bag obstruction.
  4. You will need to visit your local emergency department immediately if you have performed the above checks and you:
    • have abdominal discomfort
    • are feeling the need to pass urine
    • are unable to feel bladder fullness.
  5. If you are not experiencing abdominal discomfort, or the urge to urinate, increase your fluid intake. Drink 2 glasses of water immediately and if there is no urine drainage after 30 minutes contact your nurse or go to an emergency department.

There is urine leaking around the catheter

This information applies only to suprapubic or indwelling urinary catheters.

This is called bypassing and happens when the urine cannot drain down the catheter. This will cause it to leak around the outside of the catheter.

Check for and remove any kinks in the catheter or the drainage bag tubing.

This could also indicate your catheter is blocked (see above). Go to your local emergency department immediately as the catheter may need to be changed.

Do not increase the amount of fluid in the balloon which holds the catheter in place.

If you are having bladder spasms speak to your doctor or nurse for further advice

Avoid constipation. Eat a balanced diet and drink 1.5 to 2 L per day unless otherwise advised by your doctor or nurse.

You are having stomach cramps

Cramp type pains can happen as a result of the catheter irritating the bladder or as a result of pressure on the bladder from constipation.

These are commonly referred to as bladder spasms.

If you are experiencing bladder spasms due to irritation of the bladder, your doctor or nurse will be able to give you further advice.

Some people need to take tablets to calm the bladder but this will be discussed with you at the time.

Cloudy, smelly, discoloured urine, pain and discomfort

You may have a urinary tract infection (UTI). The signs and symptoms of a UTI are:

  • cloudy, strongly offensive smelling urine
  • burning sensation around the catheter
  • bleeding
  • itching and soreness
  • high temperature
  • feeling unwell
  • discomfort in the lower back or loin areas.

If you have any of these symptoms you should see your doctor immediately.

Your doctor may need to send a specimen of urine to the laboratory for testing.

You may need a course of antibiotics to treat the infection.

When taking a urine specimen, ideally the catheter should be changed and the sample taken from a new catheter.

Increasing your fluid intake, unless advised otherwise by your doctor or nurse, will help to flush the bacteria through the system quickly.

Your catheter has fallen out

This information applies only to indwelling urinary catheters.

Your catheter should not fall out because it is held in place by a small balloon which is inflated with sterile water after the catheter is inserted into the bladder.

On rare occasions the balloon might be faulty and deflate and your catheter will fall out.

In this case, or if you accidentally pull out your catheter, you must contact your doctor or nurse immediately or visit your local emergency department.

There is blood in the urine

There should not be any blood in the urine except following some surgical operations on the prostate or bladder.

Any blood in the urine should be assessed immediately by your doctor or nurse.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222


Acknowledgements

Royal Perth Hospital


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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