What is Intermittent Self Catheterisation (ISC)?

Problems with your bladder, regardless of severity, can seriously impact a person’s everyday confidence. Catheterising is an easy to control solution that allows you to get on with your life without worrying about your bladder.

Intermittent self-catheterisation, or clean intermittent catheterisation (CIC), is a convenient, hygienic, and fuss-free method of emptying the bladder.

A catheter is inserted into the bladder several times a day, or whenever you feel the urge to urinate, and removed afterwards. This allows you to control when and where you go to the toilet, just like ‘normal’ urination.

Unlike indwelling catheters (those which are held in position for days or weeks), intermittent catheters reduce your risk of urinary tract infections, leakage, and injury to the urethra.

Although some people feel apprehensive about self-catheterisation at first, most adapt very quickly and find it easy after they practice doing it.


What are the advantages of intermittent self-catheterisation?

  • ISC catheters are easy and safe to use
  • It does not hurt, although it may feel a little strange at first
  • ISC catheters empty the bladder completely, preventing kidney damage, urinary tract infections, and urine leakage
  • You can feel in control of your own bladder
  • You are free to enjoy normal sexual relationships
  • Because the catheter is not in place for long periods of time, you can prevent problems like bladder neck damage and erosion of the meatus (the opening of the urethra)
  • You can catheterise on the go, meaning that your independence and quality of life is retained


Who would benefit from intermittent self-catheterisation?

Continence problems are more common than you might think. In fact, there’s a wide range of people who experience incontinence, urinary retention, or bladder problems that would benefit from intermittent self-catheterisation.

People who are suffering from medical or neurological conditions such as cancer or multiple sclerosis (MS) could benefit from ISC as this method allows the bladder to be emptied fully, reducing the risk of leakage in between catheterisations.

Those who have damage to their nervous system, such as those with a spinal cord injury or spina bifida, would gain independence through ISC as they could, depending on dexterity, use the catheter themselves. Men who have enlarged prostate glands that cause an obstruction can also benefit from ISC.

Intermittent self-catheterisation may also be recommended on a temporary basis after certain surgeries.


Intermittent self-catheterisation is not a new technique; it has been used successfully for thousands of years

Ancient Chinese texts describe the use of onion stalks to relieve urine from the bladder, Ancient Egyptians used reeds which drained into urns, the Romans used wooden or metal pipes, and the Victorians used silver and lead catheters.

Benjamin Franklin even created a flexible silver coil catheter in 1752 for his brother John, who was suffering from bladder stones.

Until as recently as the 1970s, doctors did not recognise intermittent self-catheterisation as a method of bladder relief that patients could perform themselves. Concerned with risk of bacterial infection, urologists only advocated catheters that had been thoroughly sterilised and inserted in a sterile environment. Unfortunately, truly sterile self-catheterisation is extremely hard for a person to do in a normal, day to day environment.

This changed in 1971, when Jack Lapides began to argue that catheters were safe to use to drain the bladder in conditions that were clean, but not necessarily sterile. If people made sure to keep clean at every stage when using their catheters, the risk of infection would be minimal, yet they would still be able to catheterise in their everyday lives. This also gave people a viable alternative to indwelling catheters. Clean habits simply refer to actions such as cleaning the area, washing your hands, and avoiding touching the catheter.

At first, Lapides was ignored by urology professionals. Nowadays, intermittent self-catheterisation is many people’s preferred method of treating bladder problems, and there are many who have found a new lease of freedom through ISC.


What types of catheter are available?


Non-coated catheters with special tips are often designed to be washed and re-used. These catheters might need to be cleaned and lubricated before insertion or removal.


Coated catheters have a hydrophilic coating which becomes slippery when it comes into contact with water. This coating is designed to make inserting and removing the catheter as easy and painless as possible. These catheters are single use.

Catheter sets

You can also get coated catheters that come with individual sachets of water. These have the same coating as those described above, but the water sachet makes catheterisation easier to do on the go. This is ideal if you are away from home and don’t have access to clean water, but still need to activate the hydrophilic coating.

Whether you need coated or non-coated catheters, we have a wide selection that will give you maximum independence and suit your lifestyle.

Biodegradable catheters

Biodegradable catheters are a groundbreaking technology that combine the convenience of self catheterisation with the benefit of being environmentally friendly. You can use them on the go just like other catheters, but 100% biodegradable catheters are made from cornstarch, which breaks down quickly after you have finished using it, so helping to avoid plastic pollution.


How will I know when to use my catheter?

The great thing about intermittent self catheterisation is that it allows you to follow a routine. When you first begin self catheterising, you might want to empty your bladder on a timetable, such as every 4 hours.

Mostly, the frequency with which you catheterise is dictated by how much fluid you have drunk, as most catheter users need to avoid filling their bladder over 500 ml. So, if you have had 500 ml to drink, then you will need to use a catheter. However, you may also be able to use a catheter whenever you feel the urge.

Ultimately, your urology healthcare professional should be able to advise you on what type of catheter is best for your individual needs and be able to provide support and guidance on using your catheter.


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