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Guide: Types of Female Catheters and their Uses

Did you know the earliest evidence of catheterization goes back 3500 years? It is one of civilization’s oldest medical procedures. They didn’t know as much about the urinary tract then, but they did know the importance of relieving one’s bladder.

If you’ve done research in options for female catheters, you may have become overwhelmed. At Summit Xpress, we strive to provide the best customer service in medical urology supplies and this includes education.

Let’s go over the types of female catheters available, and why you and your doctor may choose one type of catheter over another.

Why You Need a Catheter?

If you are experiencing difficulty fully emptying your bladder (urinary retention) your doctor may recommend intermittent catheterization. This involves emptying your bladder with a catheter several times a day to remove the excess urine.

Urinary retention can be broken down into two categories, acute urinary retention, and chronic. Acute urinary retention entails a sudden loss of the ability to pass urine and can be life-threatening. Please seek a medical professional if you experience this.

Chronic urinary retention occurs over a longer period of time. Symptoms of chronic urinary retention may include:

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom

  • Mild discomfort in your pelvis or lower abdomen

  • Urine leaks throughout the day

  • Frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom

  • Difficulty telling when your bladder is full

  • Difficulty starting urination or continuing it

There are a host of complications associated with both acute and chronic urinary retention.

Why should I even worry about Urinary Retention?

Retained urine in the bladder can lead to urinary tract infections. Bacteria are normally flushed out of the urinary tract each time you urinate. Smaller volumes of urine and a less complete flush can retain some of that bacteria putting you at risk for an infection.

Another complication involves urinary incontinence also known as urinary leaking. Retained urine in the bladder creates a constant pressure on the muscles controlling your bladder and the sphincter muscle that you use to start and stop urinating.

Urinary retention can also lead to bladder and kidney damage. That pressure in your bladder over long periods of time ends up stretching your bladder muscles. This can reduce your control over these muscles and reduce how much volume your bladder can squeeze out.

Retained urine can be forced back into your kidneys from the increased pressure in your bladder. This can lead to swelling and pressure in the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys which are responsible for filtering your blood.

These are a few reasons why your doctor may recommend catheterization. Now with a baseline established, let’s go over the types of female catheters.

Indwelling, Suprapubic, and Intermittent Catheters

The first major distinction between types of catheters is indwelling catheters, suprapubic, and intermittent catheters. They vary by the way the catheter reaches the bladder and how long they remain.

Indwelling catheters are long-term and stay in place for 30-90 days depending on the type of material that is used. These require medical insertion. Foley catheters fit in this classification.

Suprapubic catheters also remain in the bladder for long periods of time. It is inserted through a tiny hole in the abdomen instead of draining through the urethra. It is a good choice for long term catheterization and those with urethral trauma.

Intermittent catheters are inserted several times a day to relieve retained urine in the bladder. This type of catheter is characterized by a thin tube inserted through the urethra to the bladder for a short period of time. After removing the excess urine it is removed. This is commonly referred to as an “in and out catheter.”

How are female catheters different?

Differences in female and male catheters are due to the differences in the typical length of the urethra. The urethra for a woman is around 1.5 inches compared to 7 inches for a man.

Some women find using male catheters to be more comfortable. Your doctor can help you find the right catheter length and French size.

What Are the 3 Main Types of Female Intermittent Catheters?

There are three types of intermittent catheters for women. An intermittent catheter reduces the need to wear a drainage bag all the time. You take it off after use. Intermittent catheters are good for short-time use. Thus, it is more convenient, especially for women on-the-go.

Straight Catheter for Women

A straight catheter is the original and most common type of intermittent catheter. People refer to them as “in-and-out” catheters. They do not have a coating and require manual lubrication. Therefore, you may need a lubricating gel to use it.

Straight female catheters aid in quick urine drainage and are easily concealed in your pocket or purse. They have individual packaging and are easy to carry. Thus, these are also the ideal catheter for women on-the-go.

Pre-lubricated catheters provide an answer to finding a more convenient and travel-friendly catheter. They don’t require the use of an additional lubricant. A pre-lubricated catheter for women has a gel covering that acts as a sterile lubricant.

Hydrophilic Female Catheters

The hydrophilic catheter for women has a coating similar to the pre-lubricated catheters. The difference is that they have a sterile water content that activates the coating once you perforate it. There are two other types of hydrophilic catheters for women. One has an intact package of solution which you burst to soak the catheter and thus, activate its lubrication.

The second one is a ready-to-use packet, also known as the Hollister Olli catheter. There is no need to break the packet. The hydrophilic catheter’s slick coating makes it easier for insertion and removal.

What Are Closed-System Catheters?

Closed system intermittent catheters for women are another breakthrough for convenient self-catheterization. It comes with a pre-lubricated catheter and a drainage or collection bag. Some brands even include supplies like antiseptic wipes and gloves. This is a more compact and useful option for women, even when they are outdoors.

Further, the closed system has a sterile introducer tip to prevent bacteria from entering your urethra. Thus, you will also avoid the risk of urinary infections, which is a common side effect of catheterization.

Size and Length of Catheter for Women

The women’s measurement for a catheter is in FR or the French gauge. It points out the diameter of the flexible tube. 1 Fr is equivalent to ⅓ of a millimeter. Catheters with smaller diameters are easy to insert and less painful at that.

The tradeoff with smaller gauge catheters means slow, ineffective, and sometimes messy bladder emptying. Larger gauge catheters may be difficult to insert and not get past a urethral obstruction. Long term use may also cause damage to the urethra so you want to make sure you’re using the right gauge for you.

You don’t need to worry though because your doctor will help you determine the right size and length of the catheter. This is usually based on your size and weight. Most generally, pediatric sizes for girls are between 6-10FR. The catheter for women ranges from 10-16FR, with an average of women using the 12FR.

Is Catheter Insertion Painful?

This is probably one of the most common questions and a major source of worry among first-time users. Inserting a catheter may cause minor trauma; that’s why lubricants are essential. It gets a bit discomforting, but it greatly helps in emptying your bladder and reducing strain on your kidneys and bladder.

The downside of using a catheter is the risk of urinary infection, which is more painful than insertion itself. It is necessary to exercise proper hygiene.

What Makes a Good Catheter?

There are many different types of female catheters and deciding what works for you will require talking with your doctor. Your doctor is the best person to help when it comes to assessing your condition, such as when and how long do you need to continue using a catheter.

For your catheter needs, we at Summit Xpress Medical Supply have it all. We are a reputable supplier with many different types of catheters. We have been serving the community for years and have been accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC).

What Do We Offer?

Our Product

We have top brands of products to choose from, and we can provide you samples for different types of catheters.

Customer Support Hotline

We have a hotline to assist and update you on the latest and current products.

We also have a medical team that can help you when you want to renew your prescriptions.

Insurance and Billing

Insurance specialists are readily available to help you navigate billing and insurance.


We provide free shipping to any location in the US with discreet packaging for your privacy.


If you have a tight schedule and won’t be able to monitor your supplies, we will assist you and remind you about re-ordering each month. Hassle-free!

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