Self-Catheterisation: The Basics

What is it?

Intermittent self-catheterisation or ISC (also called clean intermittent self-catheterisation) is used to treat bladders that don’t empty fully and works by passing a catheter (a small, soft, lubricated tube) through your urethra (the ‘straw like’ tube from which urine flows out of the body) to help completely empty your bladder. 

By emptying your bladder completely, you stop a build-up of old urine which is a major cause of urine infections. For some people this could also result in high pressure to the kidneys which can cause problems.

ISC can be an option on a long-term basis in patients with neurological conditions such as MS that affect bladder nerve supply. If ISC isn’t an option for you, there are other types of catheters used to drain your bladder which are permanently attached to your body. These are known as indwelling and supra-pubic catheters.

Benefits of intermittent catheterisation over permanent catheters

  • Less likely to get urine infections1
  • Less barriers to intimacy2

  • Less likely to cause trauma to your bladder, urethra, penis, or vagina3

  • Not permanently attached to your body

How does Intermittent Self-Catheterisation (ISC) work?

A catheter, a small, soft, lubricated tube is inserted into your bladder through your urethra allowing urine to flow out of the tube until your bladder is empty; you then remove the catheter.

Most ISC catheters are single use with a new one used each time your bladder needs to be emptied.

This can be done at intervals throughout the day, or when you feel the need to go to the toilet.  

  1. EAU Guidelines on Neuro-Urology.  European Association of Urology. 2022.

  2. Newman D K, Wilson N. M. Review of Intermittent Catheterization and Best Practices. Urologic Nursing. Jan – Feb 2011; Vol 31, No. 1.

  3. Thomas S, Bradley J, Bharadia T, Pomeroy I, Roberts M, Stross R, Straukiene A, Webb M, Yates A, Young J. Expert opinion consensus document. Management of bladder dysfunction in people with multiple sclerosis. BJN 2022; 31 (3 Suppl 3), S1–32.


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