Catheters Which One To Buy… Disposable or Reusable?

Reusing something maybe a smart way to save money and be eco-friendly but would this principle apply to medical devices too? Unless clearly specified as reusable, it is an absolute no-no, especially so with SUDs or single-use devices.

While on the subject of single-use and reusable, let us look at catheters which are important medical devices and available in both types – reusable and disposable. These are tubes but no ordinary ones and a lot of thought has been put into their making because they are placed internally and therefore, a person’s health is majorly at stake. So, ideally one cannot mess with catheters which play an essential and strict role in maintaining a person’s wellbeing…. both immediately after a surgery and in the lives of those with urological and incontinent issues.

Different Types of Catheters

Catheters Which One To Buy… Disposable or Reusable?

There are various types of catheters available in the market and selection would depend on your requirement – whether short-term or long-term, latex or silicone, with or without funnel end, which tip style, material, gender use, size, length, etc. With advancing technology, there has been an increase in the types of catheters now available. And users have been spoilt for choice. However, not all catheters are suitable for one individual’s needs. One person may require one type for use at home and another for outside the home.

Among the different variety of catheters available, you also have the choice of buying single-use tubing or reusable one. Both types are to be found in the market.

Disposable and Reusable Catheters

Catheters Which One To Buy… Disposable or Reusable?

The modern disposable catheter was invented in the 1940s by David S Sheridan who is referred to as the Catheter King. These types are designed to be used once and then thrown away. They are sterile and coated or pre-lubricated and may have either a hydrophilic coating or a gel coating. In the former case, the tube has to be immersed in water for 30 seconds to activate.

Again, single-use catheters are two types – for one-time use by a patient and for one-patient use. So, there are catheters that are labeled as ‘single-patient use’ and these can be washed and reused by an individual but cannot be used by another. One-time use device has to be thrown away after one use.

Reusable catheters can be washed and reused usually for up to a week, on an average. These types are made out of polyvinyl chloride and do not have a coating. Silver/stainless steel catheters are designed to be cleaned and reused multiple times by women.

Which Catheter to Use?

Worldwide, both types are to be found but there is an ongoing debate about whether the reuse technique is as safe as single use one and which catheter should be preferred. Studies have found that in developing countries reusable catheters are more popular. The chief reason for this is cost. Single-use catheters are more expensive than a reusable one. Since the healthcare systems in different countries have varying rules for reimbursement, hence reusable catheters are the preferred choice by those who use it intermittently. Also, many opt to clean and reuse uncoated catheters due to or concern about environmental issues because catheters are not bio-degradable and add to the landfill.

However, most healthcare experts recommend disposable catheters for health reasons. They argue that though multiple-use catheters may cost less but they can enhance healthcare costs because of an increase in catheter-associated risks, such as UTIs and urethral bleeding. Though there is no solid research data currently that indicates that single-use catheters will reduce CAUTI, it is very easy to introduce bacteria into the bladder and hence, risks should be avoided.

Reusable Catheters and their Risks

Experts advise that before reusing urinary catheters, one should consider the increasing risk of infection. The Infectious Disease Society of America’s (IDSA) guideline from 2009 says that there is poor-to-moderate evidence which suggests the use of multiple-use catheters instead of disposable ones in connection with CAUTI. Disposable catheters, on the other hand, are associated with less urethral trauma and infections and increased ease of use.

  • Poor cleaning methods of the reusable types have been found to increase the risk of introducing bacterial contamination. Sometimes rewashing in the house and poor attempts at sterilization may damage the PVC tube’s structural integrity. Reprocessing, it is believed, can reduce the tube’s rigidity and increase the incidence of catheter rupture thereby putting the patient’s health at risk.
  • Even the way these tubes are stored is unhealthy. Some use a range of containers as a storage facility, e.g. a pencil case, make-up bag or travel toothbrush holder with ventilation holes. There also seems to be no compromise on how many times a catheter can be reused.
  • There are some research studies which clearly support the use of disposable hydrophilic catheters. They say that there is reported incidence of 40-60% urinary tract infection in single-use catheters as compared to 70-80% incidence in the multiple-use device.
  • And as far as the cost goes, other than the price of the catheter, what should also be taken into reckoning for multiple-use catheters are expenses related to add-on lubricants, sterilization methods, washing, complication levels, time spent and patient preference.
  • Reuse may alter the physical properties of the catheter material. Electron microscopic findings reveal encrustation and increased stiffness after reuse of silicone catheters even though they were intended for reuse.

The Best Catheter Choice?

Most studies suggest using safe, patient-preferred, non-infecting and non-traumatic technique for intermittent catheterization. Some strongly recommend that patients should not try to wash and reuse catheters but instead use sterile single-use types for one’s safety. The latter is designed for one-time use and to discourage multiple uses, they have designs like crevices, joints, angles, etc, that would make cleaning and washing difficult. In tests conducted on these types found that 90% of them had residual tissue and that 60% of them fell far below sterility standards set by the FDA.

Caring for Reusable Catheters

Catheters Which One To Buy… Disposable or Reusable?

And if you do decide to opt for multiple use catheters then it is recommended that you must keep these pointers in mind:

  • If you are reusing your catheter, you must clean it every day. Always make sure you are in a clean bathroom. Do not let the catheter touch any of the bathroom surfaces; not the toilet, wall or floor.
  • Throw away the catheter when it becomes dry and brittle.
  • There is no research evidence about the best way to clean catheters. People often use soapy water, making sure they rinse the catheter thoroughly.
  • The catheter should be air-dried and stored in a convenient clean container.


To conclude, you should base your decision about which catheter to buy on your healthcare practitioner’s advice. Some people discover that a combination of single-use and re-usable catheters works best for them. For example, re-using your catheter when at home and throwing it away when you can’t easily wash it after use.

 

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