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Why would you use a foley catheter? Types, uses, care and more!

Marc Kaplan


What is a foley catheter?

The Foley catheter is a sterile, thin tube that is placed within the bladder in a process known as catheterization. The Foley catheter is used as a means of draining urine without the need for urination. Also known as an indwelling catheter, this urinary catheter is able to be used in place for a prolonged period of time without issue. A balloon on the internal end is inflated. This balloon, which is filled with sterile water, prevents the catheter from falling out of the bladder or shifting out of place. Once the urinary catheter is properly situated, it is able to drain urine from the bladder into an attached drainage bag, which can then be emptied as needed.

Why might it be necessary to utilize a Foley catheter?

There are a number of reasons why a Foley catheter might be necessary, either because of a chronic issue or a temporary inability to urinate. Some of the disorders, problems, or procedures that might require the use of a urinary catheter include the:

  • Retention of urine due to straining, urinary hesitance or "shy bladder", a decrease in either size or force of the urine stream, or the sensation of incomplete urination
  • Collection of sterile urine for use in diagnosis.
  • Monitoring of urine output in an individual who has been injured or is critically ill.
  • Collection of urine following surgery.
  • Obstruction of an individual's urethra by a anatomical abnormality that might make it difficult to urinate. Examples include prostate cancer, urethra narrowing, or prostate hypertrophy.
  • Dysfunction of the bladder caused by nerve-related damage such as spinal trauma.
  • Imaging of the urinary tract for diagnostic purposes.

What are the different Foley catheter sizes?

The Foley catheter, similar to feeding tubes, is measured in terms of French units, each of which is the equivalent of 0.33 millimeters. Foley catheters are available in a number of Foley catheter sizes, ranging from 5fr to 26fr. The Foley catheter sizes that are used in a particular situation will depend largely upon the age of the individual being catheterized. It's imperative that the physician be vigilant in choosing the right Foley catheter sizes for you. When a catheter is too large, the result can be irritation and difficulty in placement. On the other hand, when the Foley catheter sizes are too small, the result can be kinking as well as urinary leakage.

Are there any risks associated with the use of the Foley catheter?

As with any medical procedure and technique, there are risks associated with the use of the urinary catheter, although few pose a serious risk to you or your loved one. Some of the most common risks associated with catheter use include:

  • The breaking of the balloon within the bladder. If this were to occur, the physician must make sure to retrieve all fragments of the balloon.
  • The balloon not fully inflating, making it impossible for the catheter to remain in place. The doctor will always check for complete inflation upon insertion of the catheter and will remove and use a different Foley catheter, if necessary.
  • The urine ceasing to flow into the attached bag; if this occurs, the doctor will ensure correct positioning of the urinary catheter and bag and that there is no possible obstruction causing the problem.
  • The flow of the urine being blocked due to issues with the bag or the tubing; this will require the change of the bag and/or of the catheter.
  • Bleeding of the urethra; this needs to be closely monitored by the physician.
  • Infection of the bladder due to the introduction of the urinary catheter; while rare, the risk of this increases with the number of days that the indwelling catheter remains in place.
  • Bladder spasms when the indwelling catheter is inserted; the spasm consists of an intense, sometimes painful, desire to urinate. This may cause urine to leak. However, certain medications may be used to prevent these spasms from occurring.
  • Damage to the urethra in the event that the balloon is inflated before the indwelling catheter is completely inserted within the bladder; the result of pre-inflation can be anything from mild bleeding to rupture of the bladder. In rare cases, this can result in permanent narrowing of the urethra due to scar tissue.

What does Foley catheter insertion entail?

The means of Foley catheter insertion depends somewhat on whether the procedure is being performed on a man or woman. In either sex, preparation for the Foley catheter insertion consists of:

  • Keeping the genital area clean.
  • Having the patient switch to loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoiding the use of chemicals and other irritants in the area of the genitals.

In females, the urethra is quite short, especially when compared to that of males. The urethra is located just above the vagina in the region of the pelvis. In order to make the catheter easier to insert, the woman will need to lay on her back with her buttocks at the end of the table. Stirrups and elevation of the legs in a bent manner (similar to gynecological exams) allows for the best possible view of the urethra. Once the ideal position has been reached, Foley catheter insertion is made more possible.

In males, the urethra is significantly longer, meaning that the length of the catheter itself is required to be longer. Males will be required to be in a supine position or in a bent leg position, similar to females. The foreskin, if present, must be retracted as much as possible to facilitate Foley catheter insertion.

Once the patient is in position, the procedure for inserting the indwelling catheter can proceed. To do so, the medical assistant or doctor will:

  • Clean the urethra and the skin around it with an antiseptic; the cleaning is performed by wiping with a cotton ball in a circular manner, going from the inside to the outside.
  • Lubricate the catheter with a water-soluble lubricant
  • Insert the catheter into the bladder via the urethra.
  • Ensure that the catheter is completely inserted.
  • Gradually inflate the balloon with a syringe; this should not be a painful experience.
  • Take note of whether urine is beginning to flow from the bladder, through the catheter, and into the attached bag.

Urinary catheters are all equipped with drainage bags that can be easily emptied as needed. If in the hospital, the bag will typically be hung on the rail of the hospital bed by a hook to allow for easy access by the hospital staff.

What happens if you need to be discharged with a catheter?

If your physician is planning on discharging you from the hospital with a catheter still in place, the drainage bag will need to be replaced. Instead of the hospital-style bag, you will be given a portable drainage bag, or leg bag. This bag is easy to use and is attached to the calf using tape.

How does the physician go about removing Foley catheter devices?

Removing Foley catheter is quite simple and can be performed relatively quickly and painlessly by the physician. When removing Foley catheter, the doctor will:

  • Deflate the balloon using a syringe in the valve to retract the saline solution.
  • Ensure that the balloon is fully deflated before attempting removal.
  • Proceed in removing Foley catheter from the bladder.

What can you expect after removing Foley catheter?

After urinary catheters are removed, you'll likely feel just as you did before, although it is possible to experience some slight irritation of the urethra. In order to ensure that you experience no negative side effects following the use of urinary catheters, make sure to:

  • Wear loose fitting clothing made of cotton.
  • Avoid all chemical irritants and products around the genital area.
  • Keep your genital area clean.

Along with ensuring that you take care of yourself at home, you'll also want to make sure to follow up with your doctor as advised. This appointment will typically be scheduled a few days after the removal of the catheter. However, if there are any issues or if you have any questions about urinary catheters or aftercare, make sure to contact your physician at your earliest opportunity.

What signs may indicate that you're experiencing complications and need to see your physician?

While most people undergo catheterization and removal of said urinary catheters without issue, there are occasionally problems that occur and, when they do, it's important to pursue medical intervention as soon as possible. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Pink or red urine
  • Signs of infection
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Increased frequency and urgency in urination
  • Lower abdominal pain or pain in the genital and/or urethral area
  • Discharge from the urethra that has a foul smell
  • Fever

In some cases, there are symptoms that may indicate the need for an emergency room visit. If you are at home with a catheter, seek emergency care if you're experiencing:

  • Bleeding
  • Vomiting or persistent nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Symptoms of infection, such as fever or foul discharge
  • Urinary hesitancy or straining
  • Pain or burning

While the above symptoms may not be common, it's important that they not be ignored if they occur as they could be signs of a serious issue that requires immediate attention.


On to you

We hope you have a better understanding of what foley catheters are. Do you have additional questions that are still unanswered? Leave us a question in the comments below or feel free to call us directly at 

1.866.923.1544 and we'll be happy to help.

-Marc Kaplan

CEO, Save Rite Medical


CEO of Save Rite Medical by day, educator by night — Marc Kaplan leads a team that delivers the greatest customer service online. Developed from an idea to better serve the medical community, Save Rite Medical is the leading provider of online medical supplies.

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