How does a female catheter work? Let us explain the differences between male and female catheters, including how to insert a female catheter.
Men and women have their differences, but when it comes to catheters, things aren’t as far apart as they might seem. For both males and females, a soft, flexible tube is inserted into your bladder to allow for drainage. The size and specific insertion style may vary, but for both sexes the key is to find the right system to make the process as comfortable as possible. Here’s what you need to know about choosing a female catheter. Visit this page to learn more about what a catheter is.
Are female catheters the same size?
Female catheter size differs from men in both length and diameter. The female urethra is much shorter than males, so the typical female catheter is between 6 and 8 inches long (and available even shorter for travel-sized devices). However, some women might still prefer using the longer length men’s size.
For the diameter, you and your doctor will work together to find what works best for your body. The external diameter is typically measured using the French scale which is three times the size in millimeters. The internal diameter is not necessarily the same, depending on how your tube was manufactured or the material.
These range from 1 to 16. If you use a size that is too small you may notice some leaking and spilling when using your catheter, but inserting too large of a size may feel difficult or even uncomfortable. Most often, a female range would be 10-12, while a man might use 10-16, but various conditions, such as blood clots or mobility issues can affect your specific needs. Your doctor will help you find the right size for you. Do not hesitate to keep trying until you find the right fit for you.
How to insert a female catheter
Eventually, using a catheter will become routine, but at first it can seem daunting. The most important step is cleanliness. Always begin by washing your hands, your personal area, and your catheter and supplies and ensuring the space you will be in is clear and arranged for your comfort. It may be necessary to have someone on hand to help you the first few times you undergo the process, or if you are in an unfamiliar place.
Here’s the step by step way to insert a catheter in a woman:
- Clean and dry your hands thoroughly. If you’re using soap and water, wet your hands, apply soap, and rub thoroughly for 15 seconds, then rinse. Dry your hands with a disposable towel, and use that same towel to turn off the faucet. If you’re using hand sanitizer, cover your entire hands and rub them together until they are completely dry.
- Sit or position yourself comfortably with your thighs spread apart. You can either sit on the toilet, facing the toilet on a chair, or in a wheelchair. If you prefer to stand, elevate one leg on the toilet.
- Wash the urethral opening from front to back, lifting your labia as needed. If available, use a disinfectant like betadine swabsticks or benzalkonium wipes. You might need to use a hand mirror to find your urethral opening at first.
- If necessary, lubricate the first two inches of your catheter using a water-soluble lubricant.
- Use your dominant hand to gently insert the catheter introducer tip into the urethra until urine starts to flow (it should be at approximately 1 to 1.5 inches). If you like, you may insert a tampon or your finger into your vagina to ensure you don’t accidentally insert the catheter there.
- Then insert the catheter an additional inch and hold it there until urine stops flowing. If you feel resistance when the catheter, breathe deeply and apply gentle, steady pressure. Do not force the catheter. As urine begins to flow, advance the catheter another inch.
- Drain your bladder into the toilet or your collection system. When the flow of urine stops, withdraw the catheter slowly. Pinch the end of the catheter to avoid spilling any liquid. As you pull the catheter out, rotate it slightly, unless you are using a curved tip catheter (coudé). As urine drains, stop briefly, moving and straightening yourself to ensure the bladder is completely empty.
- After use, dispose of your catheter with other household waste.
If at any point you experience pain or discomfort, stop and try to relax yourself. You may have some bleeding during or after your catheterization, which could cause your urine to take on a light orange color, and your urethra may feel irritated post-catheterization.
Take a deep breath and try again. If you continue to experience discomfort, or symptoms such as a fever of 101 °F (38.3 °C) or higher, chills, pain in your pelvis, on the sides of your body or ribs, or
nausea and vomiting, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
They can provide specific guidance or work with you (and us) to find another catheter on the market that works for you.
Types of female catheters
While there are many brands and specific models on the market, the are three main catheter types for females.
Straight Female Length Catheters: These are uncoated and require lubrication to insert. These can be the easiest to carry with you on the go, as they are small and light enough to fit into a pocket or purse.
Hydrophilic Female Length Catheters
Applying water creates a lubricant that makes the catheter ready to use, saving you from carrying around a separate tub or individual packets of lubricant.
Closed System Catheters for Women
Female closed system catheters connect to their own self-contained collection bag and are pre-lubricated, making them ideal if you are in a wheelchair.