A suprapubic catheter is a medical device that helps drain urine from your bladder. It enters your body through a small incision in your abdomen. A healthcare provider can teach you how to change it and maintain it, including regularly flushing it to prevent blockages. Your incision should feel better within two weeks.
A suprapubic catheter (SPC) is a thin, flexible rubber or plastic tube that healthcare providers use to drain urine (pee) from your urinary bladder when you can’t pee on your own. Many people think you can only use a catheter by inserting it into your urethra and guiding it up to your bladder (urethral catheter). But a suprapubic catheter accesses the bladder from a small cut (incision) in the lower part of your abdomen.
Suprapubic catheters are generally safe and have a low risk of complications. Many people use them because they’re more comfortable than urethral catheters. You may also need a suprapubic catheter because an injury to your urethra makes catheters that enter through your urethra difficult or impossible to use.
Healthcare providers use suprapubic catheters to drain pee from your bladder when you can’t pee on your own. The following conditions may cause problems peeing:
Healthcare providers don’t use suprapubic catheters as often as urethral catheters. However, they may recommend a suprapubic catheter if you must use it long-term or if you’re having urethral surgery.
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A healthcare provider may first take imaging tests (X-rays or ultrasound) around your bladder and the surrounding areas to make sure it’s safe to place the suprapubic catheter — sometimes loops of your small intestine (small bowel) rest between your bladder and your abdominal wall.
Then, they’ll clean the skin of your lower abdomen where they’ll make the incision with an antiseptic, like iodine or alcohol, to help prevent infection. They’ll then apply a local anesthetic to numb the area so you won’t feel much pain. In some cases, they may give you general anesthesia so you aren’t awake.
Once you’re numb, they’ll make a small cut on your skin and place the suprapubic catheter. Once it enters the bladder, pee will drain out of the catheter and into a collection bag. They’ll use about one stitch to help keep the catheter in place. They’ll put a bandage around your incision to help prevent an infection. The tip of the suprapubic catheter also contains a small balloon. They’ll also inflate the balloon with sterile water to keep the catheter in place in your bladder.
If you need to use a suprapubic catheter for a long time, the provider will teach you or a close friend or family member how to safely change it.
Suprapubic catheter placement is quick — it usually takes less than 20 minutes.
It’s important to keep the area around your suprapubic catheter clean. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water before you change or otherwise handle the catheter. This helps prevent the spread of germs that can cause an infection.
Remove the bandage and check for symptoms of an infection around the area where your suprapubic catheter goes in, including:
Call a healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms.
You should also gently wash the area around your catheter at least once a day with soap and water. Gently pat the area dry with a clean towel.
To change a catheter bag, you should:
It’s a good idea to wash your collection bag if you’re going to use a suprapubic catheter for longer than a week or if it smells. Wash the inside of the bag with soap and cool water and thoroughly rinse it with clean water. You can also rinse the bag with a solution of 1 ¼ cups white vinegar in 2 quarts of water to help reduce odors and prevent infection.
It depends. You may only need to use a suprapubic catheter while you’re healing from a treatment or condition. Once you recover, you no longer need to use it.
If you need to use a suprapubic catheter long-term, you should change it at least every four weeks.
It’s important to rinse (flush) a suprapubic catheter with sterile water to help prevent blood clots from blocking the device and otherwise keep the catheter clean and working properly. You should flush your suprapubic catheter at least once a day.
A suprapubic catheter allows you to drain your bladder continuously. Not emptying your bladder can cause:
Some people think a suprapubic catheter is more comfortable and easier to use than a urethral catheter. It’s also possible to have sexual intercourse while using a suprapubic catheter, which is something you can’t do with a urethral catheter.
All catheters include risks, including suprapubic catheters. Possible complications may include:
No. Your pee doesn’t leave your body through your urethra when you use a suprapubic catheter because your bladder is always nearly empty.
Any pain, swelling and bruising around your incision should go away after a few weeks.
The following tips can help reduce discomfort or pain when you use a suprapubic catheter:
Reach out to a healthcare provider right away if you have any problems or questions regarding your suprapubic catheter.
Call a healthcare provider right away if:
A Foley catheter goes through your urethra into your bladder. A suprapubic catheter goes through a small incision in your abdomen.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you can’t pee, you may need a suprapubic catheter to empty your bladder. It can feel strange carrying your pee in a bag outside your body and it’s hard not to be conscious of it. You may fear that it could leak, which may prevent you from doing your everyday activities. These feelings are normal. A healthcare provider can teach you how to use a suprapubic catheter, answer any of your questions and help you feel better.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2023.
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