Medicine
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What Is a Catheter Plug?

Misty Wiser
Misty Wiser

A catheter plug is a small cylinder-shaped piece of plastic that is inserted into the drainage tubing of the urinary bladder catheter, also called a Foley catheter. Inserting a catheter plug into the opening of the drainage tubing prevents urine from leaking out of the Foley catheter. The plug is used on occasions when the urine drainage bag may need to be removed, such as during bathing, showering, and some physical activities. Many plugs feature ridges on the surface area of the plug that enable the patient to grasp it more securely for easier installation and removal of the small plastic piece. Some are packaged with a separate cover to protect the drainage tube and urine collection bag, while other plugs have a built in design that enables it to function as a plug or cover.

Most catheter plugs are designed to be used only once and are not able to be sterilized between uses. One type of catheter plug may be soaked in an isopropyl alcohol solution while the bladder is drained into the urine collection bag. Some plugs may simply be wiped clean with isopropyl alcohol and re-inserted into the drainage tubing of the catheter during daily use. A catheter plug should never be used on more than one patient to avoid the risk of bacterial contamination from one patient to another.

Isopropyl alcohol, which can be used to clean a catheter plug.
Isopropyl alcohol, which can be used to clean a catheter plug.

The simplest catheter plug is a small latex-free plastic cone. It comes with a plastic cap that protects the shape of the plug when it is not in use. A cap may be used to cover the end of the connective tubing to the drainage bag when it is disconnected from the Foley catheter.

One plainly designed catheter plug is also cone-shaped. Small plastic ridges are located on the uppermost portion of the plug. It is individually packaged in a peel-back wrapping to enable the patient or caregiver to open it and plug the drainage tubing quickly.

A urinary catheter.
A urinary catheter.

Another type is shaped like a cone with a tapered end. The entire surface of this plug is covered with ridges that enable the patient or caregiver to grasp the plug with ease. Raised areas on the plug also provide the user the ability to remove the plug with more control, which may relieve some of the momentary discomfort a person may feel as the plug is removed and the urine is allowed to drain from the bladder.

Learning How To Install a Catheter Plug

Treatment for some forms of bladder cancer may involve the use of a catheter.
Treatment for some forms of bladder cancer may involve the use of a catheter.

Catheter plugs are very simple and easy to use. These little devices come in handy, so it's a good idea to keep them safe so they don't get lost or damaged. When leaving the house, be sure to pack some plugs in the car or have an idea where to purchase some new ones locally.

Step 1:

Open the package that contains the plug(s).

Make sure they are sealed in the factory wrapping and weren't damaged in transit. Unwrap one plug and hold it next to the catheter drain tube. Compare the size to make sure it's a close fit.

Step 2:

Prepare to remove the drainage tube from the collection bag.

Have a towel or tissue ready. The port on the side of the bag will be open and venting to the air. Be prepared for the smell and possibly some leakage of liquid urine out of the bag.

Step 3:

Remove the drainage tube from the collection bag.

A plug can be inserted into the exposed end of a urinary catheter to prevent drainage.
A plug can be inserted into the exposed end of a urinary catheter to prevent drainage.

Depending on the tube fitting and the bag, there should be a simple method to remove the tube from the bag. Be sure to hold the bag in a way that it isn't going to push urine out the opening. If you can't figure out how to remove the drain tube from the collection bag, check with the catheter's packaged instructions or look on the manufacturer's website for directions.

Step 4:

Quickly insert the catheter plug into the drain tube until it makes a good seal.

Medication may be used in lieu of a catheter to treat some cases of urinary incontinence.
Medication may be used in lieu of a catheter to treat some cases of urinary incontinence.

You may need to apply some force to slide it into the tube. Lubrication with some water might help if the plug is being stubborn. The plug doesn't need to go all the way in; as long as some of the plug is in the tube and creating a good seal it doesn't necessarily need to go any farther.

Step 5:

When ready to re-attach the collection bag, pull and remove the catheter plug from the tube.

Check to see if urine is collecting already at the plug inside the tube. Prepare to drain this in a toilet or cup if there is some in the tube. Don't place the plug somewhere that it'll get lost. Don't place it where it could get dirty or stepped on. Keep the tube away from children who may try to chew on it or swallow it. Keep the plug away from pets. If the plug is disposable, toss it in the garbage and remember to get a new one ready for next time.

Step 6:

Attach the drainage tube back to the collection bag and double-check the connection for leaks.

Test the connection for leaks. Make sure the drain tube isn't bent or routed in a way that will get pulled or stepped on. Secure the tube and bag to the patient. Remove tension from tubes and fittings if necessary.

Step 7:

Observe to make sure the flow is working properly. 

Watch for a while to make sure the catheter is operating properly. It should flow through the tubes and into the collection bag just like it did before.

Learning How To Use Drainage Protector and Catheter Plug While Traveling

Manufacturers have gone to great lengths to ensure catheters can be used casually for patients traveling or going to special events. It's important to get to know the equipment first, and have some comfort in knowing how it operates. Patients who are used to their devices can enjoy the same freedom they had before needing to use a catheter. The steps outlined for learning how to install a foley catheter are the same steps for patients who are traveling. It's a good idea to pack extra when learning how to use foley catheter plugs outside the home.

Learning How To Use Foley Catheter Plug Disinfectant

With nothing to seal the disconnected discharge tube of a foley catheter, the urine will leak out where the bag used to be. The solution is to temporarily plug the discharge tube and then remove the plug when the collection bag is ready to re-attach. Catheter plugs can be purchased cheaply in packs of 5 or more. They are so simple and intuitive, people of all ages can learn how to use them.

Proper care must be taken to clean the plugs in between uses. Failure to clean and disinfect the plug could lead to infection through the bladder. Cleaning the plug regularly with soap and hot water is sufficient. If a sink is not available, then cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a wipe should also help tremendously. If using disposable plugs, then instead of trying to clean them, just throw them away after each use.

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Discussion Comments

anon357006

After three months of being catheterized, I found out I could go swimming in the ocean if I just got a catheter plug. So, I've done it twice now. So far, so good. It feels so good to get that stinky clingy bag off my leg for a while, and relieve some of the pulling on my genitals from the freaking bag weight and straps.

anon325387

Catheter plugs allow me to disconnect collection bags while I have a foley catheter inserted. I can ride a bike and be out in public much more comfortably. I just have to remove it to drain my bladder about every two hours.

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    • Isopropyl alcohol, which can be used to clean a catheter plug.
      By: tungphoto
      Isopropyl alcohol, which can be used to clean a catheter plug.
    • A urinary catheter.
      By: jamdesign
      A urinary catheter.
    • Treatment for some forms of bladder cancer may involve the use of a catheter.
      By: joshya
      Treatment for some forms of bladder cancer may involve the use of a catheter.
    • A plug can be inserted into the exposed end of a urinary catheter to prevent drainage.
      By: Sherry Young LPN
      A plug can be inserted into the exposed end of a urinary catheter to prevent drainage.
    • Medication may be used in lieu of a catheter to treat some cases of urinary incontinence.
      By: Andy Dean
      Medication may be used in lieu of a catheter to treat some cases of urinary incontinence.