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What is a Foley Catheter?

By Summer Banks
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A Foley catheter is a sterilized, thin tube — most often made of latex rubber — that is inserted into the urethra to catch urine. The catheter can be used in patients who are undergoing surgery or in cases of urinary incontinence. When the medical device is used, typically in a hospital or medical setting, it is usually inserted by trained personnel. There are risks that can be associated with the use of a Foley catheter, including possible infection of the urethra, infection of the bladder and blocked urine flow.

The Foley catheter is named for its inventor, Frederic Foley — a surgeon who came up with the device while a medical student. It was created with three important elements, the balloon, the drainage tube, and the bag. The balloon is typically made in 5 cc or 30 cc sizes, these numbers refer to the amount of sterile water the balloon will hold once inserted into the bladder.

The drainage tube of a Foley catheter is measured based on French units. The sizes range from 10 F to 28 F, with other sizes being less popular. One French unit measures about 0.013 inches (0.33 millimeters). The size needed for insertion into the urethra for urinary catheterization is often determined by the size of the urethra opening.

The Foley catheter bag is attached to the end of the drainage tube to catch the contents of the bladder. Once the bag is full, the bag must be removed and replaced or emptied. If the bag is left full for an extended period of time, an infection of the bladder could occur, as the urine will no longer be able to drain into the bag.

Once the Foley catheter is inserted into the urethra, the drainage tube will be fed into the body until the tip of the tube has reached the bladder. Sterile water is pushed into a tube located next to the drainage port. This sterile water fills the balloon at the end of the tubing to hold the catheter in place.

There can be risks associated with Foley catheter insertion. If a sterile environment is not established before insertion, the catheter could carry bacteria into the urethra. Once the bacteria are present, a urinary tract infection, or UTI, could occur.

Foley catheterization is not only used for draining the bladder. In some instances, the catheter can be fed through the cervical opening during labor to place pressure on the cervix. This pressure can result in a cervix that ripens more quickly, facilitating delivery.

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Discussion Comments

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 01, 2012

I experienced one of the most common Foley catheter complications. I had to wear one while I was recovering from a car accident in which I had injured my bladder. While I had it inside of me, I developed a urinary tract infection.

My doctor had been monitoring me closely, anyway, because of the severity of my injury. She tested my urine and found signs of an infection, and she started me on antibiotics right away.

She also suggested that I drink two 8 ounce glasses of cranberry juice every day while wearing the catheter. The acid in it would make my urine more acidic, and this would prevent bacteria from causing an infection. I guess it worked, because I didn't get any more infections after that.

By Perdido — On Jan 31, 2012

@seag47 – Foley catheters are great options to have during surgery. They can also help out people who are having problems with kidney stones.

My friend suffers from frequently occurring, large kidney stones. They are so big that they block the area, and she cannot urinate.

The doctor usually has to break up the stones with a laser, because they are too large for her to pass on her own. The catheter removes urine from her bladder until she has recovered enough to urinate normally again.

Without catheters, people in this situation would be in trouble. I can't imagine not being able to empty my bladder. I know that catheter insertion is painful, but I would much rather have one than experience the alternative!

By Oceana — On Jan 31, 2012

I have polycystic kidney disease, and my nephrologist told me to never let anyone put any catheter, Foley or otherwise, in me. He said that the risk of infection is too great for someone with my condition.

I am naturally prone to lower urinary tract infections, but I think he was mainly concerned about kidney infections. I had one once before, and it was serious. I vomited, had a high fever, and had lower back pain.

Though antibiotics could clear up an infection, there is no need to risk introducing one with a catheter. My kidney function is partially compromised, and I can't take chances.

By seag47 — On Jan 30, 2012

My mother-in-law had to have a Foley catheter inserted during her eight-hour surgery. She had gotten gastric bypass surgery last year, and because of complications from that, the surgeon knew that it would take all day to do her tummy tuck.

I cannot imagine being out for eight hours while people operated on me. Luckily, she doesn't remember anything from the surgery, and she had the catheter in place so she didn't wet herself.

I hope if I ever have surgery that I get a Foley catheter, too. It would be terrible to wake up covered in my own urine.

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