What Is a Catheter Used for?


A catheter is a tool used in medicine in the treatment of many diseases. Catheters can assist the body in draining wastes or fluids when the body is unable to successfully drain material on its own. Catheters can be inserted into the body in cavities or vessels in a process called catheterization. Catheters are generally soft, thin, flexible tubes referred to as soft catheters. However, in certain cases, longer and more solid tubes called hard catheters may be used.

Catheters serve a number of different functions depending on where they are inserted and what they are designed to treat.

Catheters and Draining Waste

Urinary catherization occurs when a Foley catheter is inserted into the bladder to drain urine. Catheters can also drain urine from kidneys using percutaneous nephrostomy. In addition, catheters can drain fluids, such as the type of fluid that collects in abscesses in the stomach or elsewhere.

Catheters and Injections

In addition to draining fluids and waste from the body, catheters can also be used to inject or administer various medications to the body.

A peripheral venous catheter is inserted to administer intravenous fluids, nutrition or medication.

Catheters can also administer anaesthesia directly into epidural space, subarachnoid space or around major nerve bundles, including the brachial plexus.

Catheters can also be used to administer insulin, with the aid of infusion sets or insulin pumps. When catheters are attached to other medical devices, including infusion sets or insulin pumps, a Touhy borst adapter is commonly used.

Catheters can be used to inject drugs or fluids into the atrium or veins located near the heart. A central venous catheter is used in this context.

Catheters and Measuring

Catheters can also be inserted and used to establish a direct measure of blood pressure within arteries or veins. A Swan-Ganz catheter is a catheter that is designed to be inserted directly into the pulmonary artery to measure pressure in the heart. Catheters can also be used to measure pressure on the brain or to take measures of intracranial pressure.

Common Illnesses Treated by Catheters

Catheters are most commonly used to treat urinary illnesses. These illnesses include incontinence, bladder stones, blood in urine, urethral injuries and urinary tract or kidney infections. Catheters may also be used when a patient is experiencing blood in her urine.

Intravenous catheters, or IVs, are used to treat many different illnesses, including cancer. The purpose of IVs is to allow medication to reach a specific area on the body as quickly and effectively as possible via the bloodstream. The number of illnesses treated by intravenous catheters is extensive, and includes any illness where any sort of medication may need to be given in the blood, including anesthesia for surgeries.

Caring for Catherers

If a catheter becomes clogged or painful, a licensed physician must remove or replace the catheter immediately.

To avoid this, catheters generally should be cleaned on a regular basis and the drainage bags should be emptied. Typically, depending on the type and purpose of the catheter, drainage bags can be removed and cleansed with a vinegar/water mixture.

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