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What is a Foley Catheter Used For?

What Is A Foley Catheter Used For

A Foley catheter is a type of urinary catheter that is used to drain urine from the bladder. Approximately 15-25% of hospitalized patients receive urinary catheters. In addition, some patients go home with a urinary catheter after surgery. Please continue reading to find out why a Foley catheter is used, the benefits and risks of using a Foley, and how to care if a catheter is in place.

What is a urinary catheter?

A urinary catheter is a hollow, semi-flexible tube that is used to drain the urinary bladder and collect urine in a bag. The catheter tube is made of plastic, latex (rubber), silicone, and other materials. It is usually inserted by a healthcare provider in a hospital or clinical setting. Depending on the type of catheter and the reason for its use, a urinary catheter can remain in place for a short time (minutes or hours), several days, or long-term.

What is the difference between an indwelling urinary catheter and an intermittent catheter?

There are different types of urinary catheters. An urethral catheter is inserted into the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). A suprapubic catheter is inserted into the bladder through a small incision (cut) in the lower abdomen. 

Indwelling catheters are left in place in the bladder for the short- or long-term. They have a small inflated balloon where the urethra begins, and the catheter exits to prevent them from slipping out. Valves are present to empty indwelling catheters. The valves can be opened to allow the flow of urine into a collection bag. Some drainage bags attached to indwelling catheters are leg bags designed to be worn under clothes, allowing you to lead a relatively normal life. 

Intermittent catheters are temporarily inserted to drain the bladder and then removed. An intermittent catheter can be used for self-catheterization at home when you need urine draining occasionally or if you don’t want to wear a drainage bag. 

Additionally, men can use a condom catheter. No tube is inserted into the urethra. A condom-like sleeve is placed over the penis, which collects urine. It is connected to a tube that transfers the urine to a drainage bag. Condom catheters need to be changed daily.

What type of catheter is a Foley catheter?

Foley catheters are indwelling urinary catheters. They consist of soft rubber or plastic tubes that are either inserted into the bladder through the urethra - the tube that carries urine out of the body (these are called urethral catheters) or through a small cut in the abdomen (these are called suprapubic catheters).

Why would someone need a Foley catheter?

The main purpose of a Foley catheter is to drain urine out of the urinary bladder. Someone might need a Foley catheter if they have an obstruction that prevents normal urine flow. Other reasons include nerve damage, muscle weakness, or medical conditions where urine stops flowing normally. 

What are the indications for a Foley indwelling catheter?

A healthcare provider may recommend catheter use for:

  • Acute urinary retention (inability to empty your bladder).
  • Urinary obstruction due to long-term permanent scarring or prostate gland enlargement.
  • Urinary incontinence (leakage of urine).
  • Bladder weakness or nerve damage not allowing urine to flow normally.
  • Surgeries on the bowels, genitals, or reproductive organs.
  • Medical conditions such as a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, dementia, or others that affect the ability to urinate normally.
  • Monitoring daily urine output.

How long can a Foley catheter stay in?

A Foley catheter is a long-term urinary catheter (indwelling catheter). However, most catheters need to be removed and replaced at least every 3 months. Indwelling urinary catheters are usually changed out by a doctor or nurse, but sometimes it may be possible for you or your caregiver to learn how to insert and remove Foley catheters.

Is a Foley catheter painful?

Inserting and removing any catheter can cause some minor discomfort. Healthcare providers use anesthetic gel to reduce the discomfort. Some discomfort can persist if the catheter remains in place. However, the majority of patients with a long-term catheter become accustomed to it and don’t have any pain.

Many people prefer an indwelling catheter because of the convenience it offers (avoiding the repeated insertions and removals that are necessary with intermittent catheters). However, indwelling catheters are associated with a higher risk of problems like urinary tract infections.

What are the risks associated with a Foley catheter? 

The main risk associated with urinary catheters is a urinary tract infection. Around 3 out of 4 urinary tract infections acquired in the hospital are due to urinary catheters. If you develop an infection due to urinary catheter use, you will need to take antibiotics. Your doctor will tell you what precautions to take to prevent infections. 

Other problems associated with urinary catheters include bladder spasms which feel like stomach cramps, urethral damage, leakage, and blockage.

When to call your doctor if you have a Foley?

Call your healthcare provider without delay or seek care from emergency medicine providers if you develop:

  • Fever (body temperature above 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Cloudy urine.
  • Foul-smelling urine.
  • Blood clots or blood in urine.
  • Urine leakage around the catheter.
  • Abdominal pain or fullness.
  • Little to no urine in the drainage bag.
  • Dislodged catheter.

How to care for a Foley catheter?

Make sure you understand your healthcare provider’s advice about looking after your urinary catheter, including when to get new catheter supplies, how to lower your risk of urinary tract infections, and when to seek medical care. Here are some tips on how to care for your indwelling catheter:

  • Check daily to ensure the Foley is completely inserted with correct positioning. 
  • Clean the urinary opening every day with soap and water.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling your indwelling catheter, drainage bag, or container used to measure urine output.
  • Clean the urinary catheter by wiping away from the urinary opening, down towards the drainage bag.
  • Clean the genital area after a bowel movement to prevent infection.
  • Empty the leg bag every 2-3 hours. A larger night bag may need to be emptied only every 8 hours. 
  • Allow some slack in the adjustable straps of the leg bag so that it does not pull on the catheter or cause discomfort.
  • Always keep the collection bag below the level of your bladder to drain urine.
  • Drink enough fluids while a catheter is in place to lower risk of a urinary tract infection. Your provider will tell you how much fluid intake you should aim for every day. 


  1. https://www.nhsinform.scot/tests-and-treatments/medicines-and-medical-aids/medical-aids/urinary-catheterisation
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003981.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/hai/ca_uti/uti.html
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21122-caring-for-your-foley-catheter#: