What are Urinary Catheters?

A urinary catheter is a tube placed in the body to drain and collect urine from the bladder.

Catheters have been in use to relieve painful urinary retention since approximately 3,000 B.C. Through the years, many materials have been used to form a hollow catheter shape, including natural materials like hollow tops of onions, straw, rolled up palm leaves, and metals like gold, silver, copper, brass, and lead.

In the 11th Century, malleable catheters were developed. In time, silver was used as the basis of catheters as it could be bent into any desired shape and was believed to have antiseptic properties.

Benjamin Franklin, the colonial statesman and inventor, created silver catheters for use by his older brother, John, who suffered from kidney stones. John's condition required him to place a bulky metal catheter into his bladder every day. To make this daily task less painful for his brother, Franklin worked with a silversmith on a design for a flexible catheter with holes bored into the sides of the catheter to provide for drainage.

By the the 18th and 19th centuries, coudé tip catheters were developed to facilitate male catheterization. Coudé tip catheters are still used today. A coudé tip is basically a slightly angled or curved tip on a catheter. This type of tip is best for those who have difficulty passing a regular straight tip intermittent catheter. This situation is most common in men, so the coudé tip is almost always an option on male length catheters. The reasons for needing coudé tips may include a an enlarged prostate, urethral stricture, blockage, or false passages.

Catheters made from rubber were first developed in the 18th Century but proved to be weak at body temperature, leaving debris in the bladder. The advent of rubber vulcanization, by Goodyear in 1844, improved the firmness and durability of the rubber catheter, allowing for  for mass production of catheters. Latex rubber catheters became available in the 1930s.

The earliest self-retaining catheters had wing tips (called Malecot) or flexible shoulders (called Pezzer), and were tied to the male penis or sutured to the female labia. Dr. Frederic E.B. Foley (a St. Paul, MN, urologist) introduced the latex balloon catheter at a urologic meeting in 1935. Though he lost a legal battle with Davol for the patent, this catheter has since been known as the “Foley.”

Charriere’s French scale was used to describe the external diameter of a catheter. Thus, the term “French (Fr)” size was coined. Joseph-Frederic-Benoit Charriere was a 19th Century Parisian maker of surgical instruments. A 12 French catheter is approximately 4 mm in external diameter (0.33 mm = 1 French [Fr]). In French-speaking countries, these catheters may be referred to as the Charriere or abbreviated Ch.

After World War II, Sir Ludwig Guttman introduced the concept of sterile intermittent catheterization in patients with spinal cord injury after World War II. For many years, sterile technique was used for catheterization. In 1971, Dr. Jack Lapides of the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, introduced the clean intermittent catheterization (CIC) technique. Dr. Lapides’ theory was that bacteria weren’t the only cause of infection. He believed that chronic stagnant urine residuals and overstretching of the bladder were also responsible. But the fact that CIC was not performed in totally sterile conditions, Dr. Lapides still felt it was superior to indwelling catheters. Initially, Lapides was scorned in the urology world. However, three decades after this debate, clean intermittent catheterization remains the preferred method to treat chronic urine retention and neurogenic bladder. Recent regulatory changes have recommended against the reuse of catheters for intermittent catheterization in an attempt to further reduce the risk of catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

Rely Medical Supply sells a wide selection of urology and catheter supplies conveniently and discreetly delivered to your home. We have catheters available in different types (Foley, intermittent, hydrophylic, etc.), lengths, and sizes from top brand-name manufacturers like Bard, Coloplast, Cure, Hollister, Rochester Medical, Rusch and more. We also have related urology medical supplies like leg bags, bed bags, external catheters (condom catheters), lube, and more.  To order, please call us at 888-529-2308 and speak with a caring product expert for assistance with your catheter needs.

For information and assistance with ordering urology products, Call 888-529-2308, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.

Note: Most urology supplies do require a prescription. If you have a valid prescription we will be happy to take your order by phone.