Internal and external urinary catheters: a primer for clinical practice

Ostomy Wound Manage. 2008 Dec;54(12):18-35.


Internal and external urinary catheters are used to manage urinary incontinence and incomplete bladder emptying. Bladder dysfunction cause determines whether short- or long-term catheter use is required which, in turn, determines whether an indwelling, intermittent, or external catheter should be used. The method of catheterization is based on the underlying bladder condition, the goals of treatment, and gender appropriateness. Complications such as infection (eg, catheter-associated urinary tract infection, sepsis) and its related sequelae have been found to be directly related to length of time of catheter use (eg, women are at greater risk for catheter-associated urinary tract infection when an indwelling catheter is in place >2 weeks); thus, catheter use must be medically justified and in the case of an indwelling catheter, involve the shortest period possible to ensure patient safety and regulatory compliance. Some newer catheter systems include coatings to prevent complications; complications specific to indwelling catheter use include obstruction from encrustations, urethral trauma and erosion, bladder stones and bladder cancer, and, in men, epididymitis. Complications from external catheters may occur when skin condition is compromised. Overuse of catheters has reimbursement ramifications. Numerous guidelines reflect the need for the judicious use of urinary catheters, particularly in long-term care patients. Because evidence-based research on long-term use of these devices is lacking, clinicians should use clinical experience when caring for patients with catheters.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms
  • United States
  • Urinary Catheterization / adverse effects
  • Urinary Catheterization / instrumentation
  • Urinary Catheterization / statistics & numerical data*