Self-Catheterization (Clean Intermittent Catheterization)

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


What is self-catheterization?

Self-catheterization is a way to empty your bladder when you have difficulty urinating. 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 called a catheter into the bladder through the urethra (the tube from which the urine exits your body). Urine drains out of the catheter into a toilet or container. When your bladder is empty, you slip out (remove) the catheter. You repeat these steps at regular intervals (intermittently) several times a day.


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What are the types of urinary catheterization?

There are several ways to use a catheter to empty the bladder:

  • Indwelling: A sterile tube called a Foley catheter stays in the bladder. The tube is inserted through the urethra, or in some cases directly into the bladder from the lower abdomen (supra-pubic catheter). The catheter attaches to a drainage bag that collects urine throughout the day and night. A balloon in the tip of the catheter keeps the catheter from slipping out of the bladder. Depending on your mobility and situation, the drainage bag may attach to a bed, your leg, or clothes.
  • Condom: Males can slip a condom-like device over the penis. The device has a tube that drains urine into a bag.
  • Self (clean intermittent): You or a caregiver insert a catheter into the bladder at regular intervals throughout the day. Urine drains through the catheter into a toilet, collection bag or container.

Who might need self-catheterization?

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

Procedure Details

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:

  • Try to urinate the regular way.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Wash your genitals with soap and water or an antiseptic towelette. This step lowers infection risk.
  • Remove the catheter from its package being careful to keep it very clean.
  • Apply a water-based lubricant on the tip and top two inches of the insertion end of the catheter if needed. Some catheters come pre-lubricated.

How do I perform self-catheterization?

Regardless of gender, the steps for performing self-catheterization are generally the same. Females may find it helpful at first to use a mirror to find the urethral opening where urine comes out. To perform self-catheterization:

  • Sit on the toilet (females may prefer to stand or squat over the toilet).
  • Use firm, gentle pressure to insert the lubricated end of the catheter into the urethra.
  • Hold the other end of the catheter over the toilet bowl or container.
  • Slowly slide the catheter until it reaches the bladder and urine starts to flow out of the tube.
  • Continue inserting the catheter another inch or two.
  • Hold the catheter in place until the bladder empties.
  • Slowly and gently slide out the catheter.

What should I do after finishing self-catheterization?

Cleanup is an important step to preventing infection. Always wash your hands when you finish in the bathroom. The catheters are all single-use, please dispose of it in the trash.


How often do I need to perform self-catheterization?

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.

Risks / Benefits

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

Inserting a catheter can raise the risk of introducing infection-causing bacteria into the body, but having an indwelling Foley catheter presents even a higher risk. So if possible, CIC is a better option than an indwelling Foley. With any type of catheter, you have a higher chance of having a:

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Bladder spasms (sudden painful cramps and unexpected leaking of urine).
  • Blood in urine (hematuria).
  • Difficulty inserting the catheter.
  • Unusually small amounts of urine when emptying your bladder.
  • Painful urination (dysuria).
  • Signs of urinary tract infection (fever, pelvic pain, urinary leakage).
  • Skin rash or sores at the site of insertion.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Some people need self-catheterization for a short time. Depending on the cause of the bladder problem, medications or surgery may correct the problem. If you have a chronic problem or a condition that is expected to get worse over time, you may always need to use a catheter to urinate. Everyone’s situation is different. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can expect.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/23/2020.

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