Many people’s worst nightmare is the day when they revert back to infancy in the ability to control their bodily functions namely defecating and urinating. The market for products that are designed to make life easier to live with incontinence of bowel or bladder is large and here to stay. This includes products that depend on adult diapers and urinary catheter models that are in a very competitive market with one another.
Urinary catheters can be placed more permanently and suprapubically, or they can be placed in a less permanent but still indwelling manner with the foley catheter. Yet another option is the on-demand straight catheter which can even be used by the patient on themselves when they feel the urge or at scheduled times. These are more cleanly typically when referring to outward hygienic cleanliness and are certainly a lot more convenient than having to change diapers whenever one has urinated.
What most people don’t realize is that the catheter adds to the mix of potential problems some very serious ones and possibly deadly complications that may far and away outweigh the surface benefits of catheterization. Infection, Infection, Infection!
The urinary catheter dramatically increases the risk of infection of the urinary tract ranging from simple and irritating bladder infections to more serious pyelonephritis or infection of the kidneys which have the tendency of turning into deadly bloodstream infections. It is a little known or at least acknowledged fact that sepsis with a UTI as the source infection is one of the most common killers of the elderly in the US. Often these infections have something to do with instrumentation secondary to urinary incontinence.
So how does the catheter cause all of these problems? Well, it is the primary vehicle for the introduction of bacteria into what is a sterile environment. Certain bacteria are well suited to inhabit the urogenital tract and will thrive if introduced into this environment. These bacteria will then ascend through the ureters up into the kidneys and into the bloodstream, if the immune system is weakened (as it commonly is in the elderly) the infection will quickly spread in the body through blood and overwhelms the body’s defenses causing the patient to quickly succumb.
The order of decreasing likeliness for this infection introduction is suprapubic with the highest infection rates, foley is next, intermittent straight catheter, and then adult diapers are virtually infection-free as far as increased risk is concerned. So though they may not be the most fashionable or the lowest maintenance they may be life-saving options.