Understanding the Urinary System and Self-catheterization

Your Urinary System

urinary systemYour urinary system consists of five major parts: two kidneys, two ureters, the bladder, sphincter muscle and the urethra.  The kidneys filter our blood and produce urine, which flows down the ureters into the bladder, a muscular bag.  Urine is then held in the bladder by a strong circular muscle band called a sphincter muscle.  When the brain sends a message to relax the sphincter muscle, the urine is released and flows down the urethra and out of the body.  The bladder sends a signal to the brain when it is full, about every 3 to 4 hours.  Then the brain decides whether or not it is a convenient time to empty.  If you don’t empty the bladder at the first message of fullness, the messages begin to come faster and stronger until finally the bladder will override the brain and empty on its own or the bladder will become overfilled.

For people whose bladder, sphincter muscle and or messages t and from the brain do not work correctly, urinary problems may occur.  The bladder may overfill with urine and become distended.  As a result, blood circulation to the walls of the bladder may decrease and infection may result.  Urine may back up from the bladder through the ureters into the kidneys.  This “reflux”, as it is called, can lead to kidney infections, scar tissue formation and ultimately permanent kidney damage.  Intermittent catheterization is a way to completely empty the bladder on a regular schedule so that the bladder won’t become distended.

What is Intermittent Self-Catheterization?

Intermittent self-catheterization means the periodic insertion of a hollow plastic tube ( a catheter) into the urethra, past the sphincter muscle and into the bladder.  Because the catheter is hollow, urine will flow through it and the bladder will empty.  It must be dome at regular intervals, and is easiest if done on a set schedule each day.

Why do Intermittent Self-Catheterization?

There are several advantages and health benefits to intermittent self-catheterization.  We already know that it prevents the bladder from becoming overfilled and losing it muscle tone.  Catheterization also eliminates residual urine, which is urine that stays in the bladder when the bladder doesn’t completely empty.  Residual urine allows bacteria to grow and multiple.  In addition, residual urine may cause periodic urinary leakage.  When you catheterize and drain residual urine, you’re helping to prevent bacterial growth and bladder infections.  Additionally, by completely emptying your bladder you will have less wetting accidents and can be more active, confident and healthy.

Your physician, nurse and other members of the health care team have determined that intermittent self-catheterization will help you stay drier and prevent infections.  They will help you set a schedule of times to catheterize, and with you decide which catheter is best for you to use.  They will teach you how to do the catheterization and answer any questions you may have.

It will take practice for you to learn how to catheterize yourself.  But remember, thousands of people all ages catheterize themselves every day and learned this technique just as you will.

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