Male External Catheters (MEC) vs. Internal Catheters

There are three main types of catheters; two are internal- intermittent and indwelling- and a third, external. So, is one better than the other? Here, we will discuss the differences between the three and the side effects that one should know before using.

Male External Catheters (MEC)

External catheter systems, also commonly referred to as condom cath, or Texas Catheter, are available for men. And while MEC's have been historically geared toward men, there are versions available for females as well. These are designed with form-fitting cups.

These MEC's are dubbed safer to use than internal catheters because a tube does not need to be placed in the bladder to remove urine. It allows the person to self cath. The catheter fits over the penis and connects to a drainage bag that is strapped to your leg. There are several different sizes and versions of MEC available. Many of this type are disposable and generally are reliable for about a day or two, which serves the purpose if the need is temporary. However, there are reusable external catheters for active men with incontinence, and are often used as an alternative to diapers and pads.

Although much safer than inserting a tube into the urethra, there are some problems associated with MEC's:

  • Chance of infection, although far less than with internal
  • Skin irritation and rashes could possibly occur from the friction caused by putting an external catheter in place. We offer Shield Skins, and Adhesive Removers to help manage these problems.
  • Catheter coming undone. For instance, in older men the penis may have retracted it may be difficult to keep it from staying on. This is were a Retracted Penis Pouch is an option.

For more information of the Types of Catheters at click here

Indwelling catheters

Indwelling catheters are a closed system inserted into the urethra to allow the bladder to drain, or in cases with a two-way catheter (Foley), fill up. Having two purposes is one reason that makes them different than external catheters, which only help empty. But because these devices are inserted into the urethra and bladder and left there over several weeks before being changed, problems can arise.

  • First of all, when the device is initially inserted into the urethra, it can for some be painful and uncomfortable. Along with that can come a burning sensation and sometimes even spasms.
  • Second, although a water-filled balloon inside the bladder usually tightly secures the catheter, sometimes the catheter can fall out. This could be a result of using the wrong size catheter.
  • With this a third problem can arise- leakage or bypass, which means that urine comes out, but not through the tube.
  • Blockage can also occur by using an internal cath as well. Bacteria, mucus or crystallization of protein can cause this.
  • Finally, a urinary tract infection can occur from bacteria, leakage or blockage. In fact, UTI is the most common contracted hospital infection.
  • Other infections could occur as well as a result of internals over several months.
  • More serious results that could come about are bladder stones, blood in the urine, tearing of the urethra.

However, despite the problems that can occur with indwelling caths, sometimes they are the only option. For example, pregnant women having an ultrasound done need full bladders to achieve a proper picture. If the bladder is not as full as it needs to be they will need to be catherized with a Foley to fill the bladder with saline. Another, probably more prevalent, reason is that people who cannot manage using an intermittent cath themselves, which will be discussed in the next section, may find it easier to manage their everyday lives with an indwelling catheter. This is usually found in nursing homes, hospitals or with people with medical conditions who live alone in their own homes.

Intermittent catheters

Intermittent catheters are another type of internal cath, although they are inserted and removed only when needed. This very sterile method of removing urine are used by people every three to four hours to void the body of residual urine that may still be in the bladder. Once the process is complete, the catheter is removed until the next time for use rolls around. Because the catheter is removed after each use, there is less chance of infection. Since it is easy to learn how to do so, this type of catheter is usually inserted by the user himself or by a family member, as opposed to the more permanent indwelling version in which a medical professional usually inserts it- and it stays.

There are not many side effects to using an intermittent catheter, however, there are some:

  • There can be some swelling and tenderness around the urethra due to the reinsertion throughout the course of the days.
  • Infection can also occur if sterilization techniques are not in place.

Medical Uses

There are chronic medical conditions that may require someone to use internal or external catheters at all times, such as paralysis and bladder problems.   However, sometimes someone otherwise totally healthy may also need to use them temporarily to help get them through the recovery process.  

Incapacitating accidents, surgeries, illnesses and certain medical occurrences like a stroke can make going to the bathroom a chore on one’s own.   But thanks to biotechnology, it doesn’t have to be.   MEC's can aid in making the days and nights of the recovery process go much smoother.

Here are some examples of when and where our external catheters can come in handy:

Hip Replacement/Pelvic Surgery

Many times it can be difficult

Prostate Surgery

Limited Mobility from Various Conditions/Injuries

There are many surgeries that may require someone to use a wheelchair or be on complete on bed rest.   Car accidents can result in leg, back and neck injuries.   Falls, slips and other accidents can result in the same.   When someone is confined temporarily to a bed and/or wheelchair, especially because they are not yet adjusted to their situation, getting up and around to use the bathroom when the urge to pee comes on may be difficult or even impossible.   An MEC can be comfortably worn to help these patients stay dry during the recovery process.

More chronic-type illnesses that external catheters can aid:

  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Diabetes


As you may have concluded yourself, the less a catheter is inside of you the safer it is. And, when it is not even in you, all the more better. MEC's present a clean, comfortable and easy-to-use option for those needing help emptying their bladders. Available in discreet versions for both men and women, many are beginning to see the benefits of this type of catheter. However, when health and medical reasons require it, there are more permanent versions as well.