Believe it or not, there are lots of different kinds of urinary catheters. So the question “what is a Foley Catheter?” is not necessarily as easy to answer as you might think.
Let’s start with what a catheter is. A catheter is a tube that is inserted somewhere into the body to allow fluid to flow out of the body.
One of the most common uses for that is to allow pee (urine) to flow out of the body. You would want this if there is any kind of blockage in the “normal” route that pee takes to exit your body. Or there might be a need to bypass the normal route due to some other cause, like surgery.
So what is a Foley catheter already?
A urinary catheter that stays in the bladder for longer than just a few minutes is usually called an “indwelling” catheter. That’s because – well, it dwells in the catheter, rather than just being put in to drain pee and taken out again.
How does a catheter stay in the bladder?
Good question. There are a couple of different ways a catheter can be held in place. But the most common type is the Foley catheter, which is held in place by a balloon.
The rubber tube is inserted (usually along the urethra – don’t think about it:-P). Once the tube is all the way in, a balloon is inflated by injecting saline into a little tube on the end of the catheter still sticking outside of the body. Once the balloon is inflated, it’s too large to slide out of the bladder through the urethra opening.
At the far end of the balloon is the end of the tube (that doesn’t inflate), and it has holes in it. The pee in the bladder goes into those holes and comes down through the catheter tube and out the end outside the body, which has a drainage bag attached to it. Then of course, you empty the drainage bag into the toilet several times a day instead of “going pee” the normal way.
Another kind of indwelling catheter is a “pigtail” catheter. That was what kind I initially had. Instead of a balloon to hold it in place, the part of the tube that goes into the bladder curls up into a coil (like a pig’s tail), and that keeps it from coming out of the bladder easily. However, since the tube could still be pulled out, uncoiling the end, it is usually further secured with some stitches, in the case of a suprapubic insertion (goes in through the abdominal wall instead of up the urethra). See my post What Is A Suprapubic Catheter? for more on that.
So a Pigtail catheter is not a Foley catheter?
Yes. That is correct. A pigtail catheter is NOT a Foley.
What makes a Foley a Foley is the single balloon holding it in place. Also, a Foley catheter has two different channels running along its length that lead to two different outlets/ports that hang outside the body.
One of those channels only goes to the balloon, so it can be inflated and deflated by syringe. The other channel is, of course, how the pee comes out of the body.
Hopefully that answers the question “what is a Foley catheter?”
Thank you for sharing this information.
It explains a lot for me.👍
Is the balloon that is in the foley cath the reason that it is so much more uncomfortable during movement, such as standing? Gravity seems to yank on mine and cause a very painful stinging sensation. Is that normal, or could it possibly just be placed in there wrong?
Also, are there different types of indwelling caths, besides the pigtail one & the foley that are available or more comfortable? Just curious.
I am new here, and trying to learn all that I can now. I was recently diagnosed with a condition that will require me to self cath soon. But I am terrified of that right now and would rather use ANYthing other than that. Currently, I still have a foley in at the moment, but it is very uncomfortable. I cannot imagine trying to actively function with this. Is this a normal feeling for people with a foley? The constant yanking, stinging pain?
Just trying to learn more about other options and gather as much information as possible. Thanks so much!
Ken Theriot says
There is a type of catheter on the market that is designed to be better for both pain reasons and lowering the odds of UTI. It’s called the Duette catheter. Here is a post I wrote about it – https://livingwithacatheter.com/the-duette-a-better-catheter-than-the-foley/. I obviously cannot know for sure what is causing your pain, but speaking form my experience, it was usually the tip of the catheter coming out the other side of the balloon that was causing the pain. That tip has inlet holes in it to allow the urine to enter the catheter. And there is pretty much always a suction going on in there. So if that tip gets close to the bladder wall, it can suck in the tissue of the bladder wall. Also, you can poke that tip into the bladder wall as you move around. The Duette has two balloons, one at the end and one to prevent the catheter sliding out (as with the Foley). The inlet is in the area in between the two balloons. So it’s virtually impossible for the bladder wall to come into contact with the inlet holes. And there is no tip that can poke into the bladder wall.
The problem is that not all hospitals have them and may not be willing to use them if you buy one on your own. And they are still having difficulty with overseas availability, so it can be expensive to order them and have them shipped outside the US. But if you CAN get one (click here to buy one if your medical team is willing to use it instead of the Foley), it may well prevent the pain you are describing. Keep in mind that I don KNOW that this has been the cause of YOUR pain. And I’m not a medical pro.
I hope that helps some.