What is an intermittent catheter?

Intermittent catheters are usually thin, flexible, hollow tubes made of silicone, rubber, latex or plastic. These types of catheters are inserted as needed to drain urine from the bladder into the toilet or into a disposable bag. For those with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, enlarged prostate and other conditions that affect normal bladder function, an intermittent catheter may be used to manage emptying the bladder.

If your doctor suggests using an intermittent catheter for your urinary health management, he or she will instruct you on how to do intermittent self-catheterization (ISC) to empty your bladder. Generally, you’ll need to use the intermittent catheter at least every six hours and before going to bed. It is important to use the intermittent catheter correctly; according to the Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates (SUNA), “ISC is used to help protect the kidneys, prevent incontinence (urine leakage) and lessen the number of infections by promoting good drainage of the bladder, while lowering pressure inside the bladder.”


Common types of intermittent catheters include:

Coudé tip – The slightly curved tip is often recommended for men who need to navigate past an enlarged prostate, urethral stricture or other obstruction. (Coudé tips are usually only used in men.)

Straight tip – The standard tip is suitable for both men and women.

Closed-System – These catheters include a self-contained drainage bag that collects the urine while protecting the catheter from infection-causing bacteria. Within the intermittent line of catheters, there is a lower incidence of UTIs with closed-system catheters, in comparison to other intermittent catheters.


Intermittent catheters are commonly made from:

  • Silicone
  • PVC (polyvinyl chloride)  
  • Red Rubber (latex)


Benefits of intermittent catheters

  • Reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Reduced risk of kidney damage
  • No need for catheter bags, unless preferred
  • More independence



Your doctor will choose the smallest-sized catheter based on your urinary health needs. Catheters are sized using the French catheter gauge, noted generally as “fr.” The smaller the number, the smaller the diameter of the catheter.



Your doctor or health care professional will teach you how to use your intermittent catheter so that you can perform self-catheterization at home. In general, to catheterize, you will insert the catheter into the urethra to empty the bladder. Water-soluble lubrication jelly is often used to help the catheter slide easily into the urethra and makes the procedure more comfortable. Some intermittent catheters have lubrication inside the packaging, but others require you to use a gel lubricant from a separate package or tube.


Related articles:
Common questions and answers about urinary catheters
Clean intermittent self-catheterization for women
Clean intermittent self-catheterization for men