Intermittent Self Catheterisation (ISC)
What is it?
Intermittent Self Catheterisation, or ISC for short, is used if you can’t empty your bladder by yourself. This can happen short-term after surgery or long-term if you’re living with a permanent bladder problem. ISC means that you put a small, soft catheter through your own urethra by yourself to empty your bladder. This all sounds way scarier than it is, promise! You’ll be taught exactly how to do it by your healthcare professional either in hospital, at your local clinic or in the comfort of your own home. Don’t be scared to ask about being taught at home if you feel more comfortable with it.
How does it work?
Once you know what you’re doing, you’ll insert the catheter into the bladder at certain intervals throughout the day or when you feel the need to go to the toilet. Sometimes, it will also be necessary that you get up once or twice in the night to catheterise. Once all the urine has drained out of your bladder, the catheter can be removed, and you’re all done. Bear in mind, that all self-catheterisation catheters in the UK are made for single-use only and should be thrown away after use. Make sure to not reuse the same catheter twice as this increases the risk of infection drastically!
Some people will need to catheterise six times a day, others only once. As you can see, this isn’t really a one rule for all kind of situation when it comes to frequency. But don’t worry, your healthcare professional will help you work out what works best for you. At the start of your ISC journey, your nurse or doctor might ask you to measure your urine and keep a chart of how much you pass each time[VA1] . This is to make sure you’re catheterising often enough but not too often.
Are you feeling a bit anxious about it all? Don’t worry, that’s a perfectly normal way to feel about it. And to be fair, it can be a bit, well, awkward to start with but practice makes perfect. And soon you’ll be laughing about being worried in the first place! And always remember: You’re not alone in this! Your healthcare professional will offer support until you feel like you’re able to manage alone. So ask for help if you feel like you need it!
And if fancy a chat to someone other than your GP, why not give our customer care team a ring? They’re such a lovely bunch and are more than happy to help you with all your questions.
Who can and can’t use it?
As with everything, ISC isn’t for everyone so it’s really important that you’re first step is to speak with your nurse or doctor about it. To be able to use ISC as a way of catheterisation, it’s necessary that you’re cognitively well and that your dexterity is good enough to catheterise yourself. That’s why, in many cases, ISC is unfortunately not suitable for people with Arthritis or Alzheimer’s.
What makes it so much better?
ISC is generally seen as the golden standard in the world of catheterisation – and that’s for multiple reasons:
- It reduces the risk of urinary infections and urine flowing back into the kidneys
- It increases independence
- It allows the bladder to recover and regain the ability to empty by itself
- It is more convenient in relation to movement and sexual intercourse
- It reduces any risks associated with long-term catheters (e.g. urethral trauma, encrustation)
- It empties the bladder completely which stops a build-up of old urine and prevents urinary infections
Your Life with ISC
It is super important that you empty your bladder as you have been told by your healthcare professional. If you do this, you’ll drastically reduce the risk of leakage, UTIs, bladder infections, and long-term kidney damage.It is super important that you empty your bladder as you have been told by your healthcare professional. If you do this, you’ll drastically reduce the risk of leakage, UTIs, bladder infections, and long-term kidney damage.
Why is an empty bladder so important?
If your bladder isn’t emptied often enough or completely the urine will just sit there and bacteria has the chance to multiply. This means that you are at greater risk of developing bladder infections and UTIs, both of which can be very painful and lead to scarring in the bladder as well as kidney damage if untreated.
Another outcome of not emptying often enough is that your bladder might go into retention. This will likely increase the pressure in the bladder, risking urine to flow back into the kidneys. This doesn’t just carry the risk of an acute infection, but it can also cause long-term damage to your kidneys. If your bladder gets too full on a regular basis it might also become overstretched. This means it becomes weaker and may struggle to contract and empty effectively in the long run.
How to get into a routine
Routines are an easy way to keep track of your ISC but they’re obviously not for everyone. So, if you’re not the routine kind of person, then that’s not a problem either. Just make sure that you can find a way that works for you and speak to your healthcare professional about it.
If you’re worried about getting into your new routine, why not start with a bladder diary[VA1] ? Writing it down can be super helpful to establish a new routine but try to not keep the diary for longer than you really need it. You want ISC to become a normal part of your life, after all, and keeping a constant diary of your toilet visits has a real possibility of becoming unhealthy. If you don’t want to keep a diary at all but you’re still worried that you might forget to catheterise, simply set an alarm or reminder on your phone – no one needs to know what it’s for if you don’t want them to!
In the long run, the best way to get into a routine is to link your catheterisation to daily activities like brushing your teeth or mealtimes. Just look at how your bladder would usually function. When would you usually nip to the loo? For example, you might go for a wee first thing in the morning, then again mid-morning, before or after lunch, once in the afternoon, before or after dinner, and then just before you hop into bed. If that is what your usual pee routine would look like, then try and catheterise according to it. You’ll see, it will become second nature in no time!
It’s also super important that you get into a routine where you have your catheter supplies handy at any point – no matter where you go. It might be worth getting yourself a little washbag [VA2] that you can throw in your handbag or a little shoulder or bum bag if you’re a man or don’t carry a handbag with you at all times. This way, you always have your catheter and accessories handy when you need them.
And last but not least, don’t panic if you forget to catheterise. It happens to everyone at some point and it is not the end of the world - at least not if it only happens once in a blue moon! Just take a deep breath, grab everything you need and go catheterise as soon as you remember.
When you’re out and about
Settling into a routine at home is already be scary and challenging but being out and about can often seem overwhelming and impossible. It really isn’t, promise! It might just take a little more planning than you’re used to.
If you know that you’ll be out and about for the day, make sure to plan ahead so your catheterisation fits in with all your planned activities. Pick times during the day where it’s most convenient for you to catheterise. If you’re going to the cinema or theatre, for example, make sure to leave some time before or after the performance to nip to the loo and do your thing.
It’s also super helpful to have all the necessary kit with you. These are obviously your catheter and all necessary supplies but also hand sanitiser to clean your hands before and after you catheterise, a little bag or nappy sack where you can put your catheter if you don’t want to dispose of it in the bin, and wipes to clean to your downstairs area prior to catheterisation. If you’re with Vyne to get your catheter supplies, we’ll make sure you’ve got plenty of these to hand!
As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate ISC into your everyday life. And once you have established your routines, you’ll quickly be able to live your life to the fullest again!
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