Catheter-associated urinary tract infections are a well-known issue related to urinary catheters. However, a new study  in JAMA Internal Medicine finds the devices can cause more issues that previously thought. In fact, UTIs are five times less common than non-infectious problems caused by indwelling urinary catheters.
In-depth interviews and chart reviews from more than 2,000 patients found more than half of catheterized hospital patients experienced a complication of some kind.
The issues ranged from pain, bloody urine and activity restrictions while the catheter was in, to problems with urination and sexual function after it was removed.
“Our findings underscore the importance of avoiding an indwelling urinary catheter unless it is absolutely necessary, and removing it as soon as possible,” says the study’s lead author Sanjay Saint, MD, MPH , chief of medicine at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, George Dock professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and director of the U-M/VA Patient Safety Enhancement Program. 
A wide array of issues
For the study, Saint and his colleagues from U-M, VAAAHS, and two Texas hospitals analyzed data from 2,076 patients who had recently had a catheter placed for short-term use. Most catheters were placed because the patients were having surgery. Researchers followed-up with patients two weeks after catheter placement and again one month after their catheter placement to ask about their catheter-related experience.
Nearly three quarters of the patients were male, and the catheter was removed within three days of the insertion for 76% of patients. Among the study’s findings:
- Just over 10% of patients reported infections
- 55% of patients reported at least one complication of a non-infectious kind
- 31% of patients whose catheters had been removed at the time of the first interview said it hurt or caused bleeding coming out.
- More than half of those interviewed while the catheter was still in place said it was causing them pain or discomfort.
- One in four patients reported the catheter had caused bladder spasms or a sense of urgency about urinating.
- 10% said the catheter led to blood in their urine.
- Nearly 40% of patients interviewed while a catheter was still in place, said it restricted their daily activities
- About 20% who had their catheters removed said they experienced urine leakage, or difficulty starting or stopping urination.
“While there has been appropriate attention paid to the infectious harms of indwelling urethral catheters over the past several decades, recently we have better appreciated the extent of non-infectious harms that are caused by these devices,” says Saint.
Story first appeared in PSQH.