Self-Catheterization (Clean Intermittent Catheterization)

People with bladder control issues or other medical conditions may need to perform self-catheterization to empty their bladder. Also called clean intermittent catheterization, the process involves using a catheter, or tube, to drain your pee at regular intervals throughout the day.


What is self-catheterization?

Self-catheterization is a way to empty your bladder when you have difficulty peeing. As the name suggests, you perform the procedure yourself.

Self-catheterization, also called clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) or intermittent self-catheterization (ISC), involves inserting a thin, hollow tube into your bladder through your urethra. Urine (pee) drains out of the catheter into a toilet or collection container. When your bladder is empty, you slip out (remove) the catheter. You repeat these steps at regular intervals several times a day (typically every four to six hours).

Your healthcare provider will teach you how to use a catheter the right way. There are different sizes and types of catheters. The one you use depends on your needs. Other supplies like lubricants and antiseptic towelettes are usually necessary to make the process easier. It’s important to always use clean hands when placing your catheter to avoid infection.

When do people need self-catheterization?

Certain health conditions can make it difficult to fully empty your bladder. Bladder control issues that could require a catheter are more likely if you have:


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Procedure Details

How does self-catheterization work?

Self-catheterization is a way for people with certain medical conditions to empty their bladder. It involves using a catheter (a thin, bendable tube) to drain your pee directly from your bladder at regular intervals throughout the day. Urine drains through the catheter into the toilet or a collection container.

Some people need to self-catheterize due to urinary incontinence or leaking pee, while others need it due to surgery or other medical conditions that prevent them from emptying their bladder completely.

Not being able to drain your bladder can lead to:

How should I prepare for self-catheterization?

Your healthcare provider will show you how to perform self-catheterization. The process gets easier with practice. Before performing self-catheterization, you should:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Wash your genitals with soap and water or an antiseptic towelette. This step lowers your risk for infection.
  • Remove the catheter from its package, being careful to keep it very clean. Don’t touch anything other than the catheter after you wash your hands.
  • Apply a water-based lubricant (like K-Y Jelly®) on the tip and top two inches of the insertion end of the catheter. Some catheters come pre-lubricated.


How do I perform self-catheterization?

The steps for performing self-catheterization are:

  1. Make sure you’re using clean hands.
  2. Sit on the toilet (you may prefer to stand or squat over the toilet). People with a vagina may find it helpful at first to use a mirror to find the urethral opening where pee comes out.
  3. Use firm, gentle pressure to insert the lubricated end of the catheter into your urethra.
  4. Hold the other end of the catheter over the toilet bowl or collection container.
  5. Slowly slide the catheter until it reaches your bladder and urine starts to flow out of the tube.
  6. Continue inserting the catheter another inch or two.
  7. Hold the catheter in place until your bladder is empty. You may need to gently press on your abdomen or lean forward to make sure there isn’t any urine left.
  8. Slowly and gently slide out the catheter in a downward movement.
  9. Wash your hands again.

How many times a day should I self-catheterize?

Your healthcare provider can help determine how many times a day you need to empty your bladder. Most people complete the process four to six times a day or every four to six hours.

Is it easy to catheterize yourself?

There’s usually a learning curve to self-catheterization. You may feel unsure the first few times you do it. Over time and with practice, the process should become easier. If you don’t feel that you’re getting the hang of it, you should reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

Is it painful to self-catheterize?

It may be a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. If you experience pain, contact your provider as it could be a sign of an infection or other problem.

What should I do after finishing self-catheterization?

Cleanup is an important step in preventing infection. Always wash your hands when you finish. The catheters are all single-use, so you can throw them away in the trash.


Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of this procedure?

Self-catheterization is an effective and safe way to take care of your bladder health. Pee needs to come out of your body. Not fully emptying your bladder has health consequences like infection and kidney damage. While it may feel intimidating at first, learning to self-catheterize can help and even improve your quality of life because you’re not worried about incontinence or other urinary symptoms.

What are the potential risks or complications of self-catheterization?

While self-catheterization is safe, there’s still a risk of infection. That’s why following care instructions is so important. The risks of self-catheterization are:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Bladder infection, perforation or spasms.
  • Kidney infection.
  • Urethral scarring or damage.

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Bladder spasms (sudden painful cramps with leaking of pee).
  • Blood in your pee (hematuria).
  • Difficulty inserting the catheter.
  • Unusually small amounts of pee when emptying your bladder.
  • Painful urination (dysuria).
  • Signs of urinary tract infection (fever, pelvic pain, leaking pee).
  • Skin rash or sores where you insert the catheter.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Self-catheterization can feel overwhelming at first. Many people need to use this method to empty their bladder. Some need to self-catheterize for a very short time, while others need to for longer. Depending on the reason you need to empty your own bladder, medications or surgery may fix the underlying problem. Everyone’s situation is different. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can expect.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/28/2024.

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