© Dale Crosby Close for Mosaic

The Briefing: Everything you’ll ever need to know about catheters

A lot of research goes into our stories. Here are some of the resources we used to put together our story on why our reluctance to talk about catheters could kill.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common healthcare-acquired infection, and half are linked to catheters. With one in five of us being catheterised when we go into hospital, it’s about time we fought back against this unspoken health risk. In this feature for Mosaic, Jane Feinmann learns how researchers are working to make catheters safer.

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, here’s some further reading. We’ve broken things down into key subtopics, but otherwise these links aren’t listed in any particular order – so feel free to dip in and out.

A history of catheters

This 2015 paper takes a journey through over 3,500 years of urinary catheters, from their ancient origins to the development of the Foley catheter, with historical illustrations.

The expression ‘catheter fever’ was first used by Andrew Clark in 1833. This watercolour drawing from the 19th century depicts a calculus (a build-up of mineral salts) formed on a female silver catheter.

Today, awareness of possible catheter complications is gradually improving. CatheterOut has contributed to this by developing strategies to prevent catheter-associated UTIs (CAUTIs). Its website offers educational tools, prevention strategies and a CAUTI-cost calculator.

Guidance for patients

The NHS offers online guidance to patients on how to live with a catheter, as well as potential risks to look out for.

If you are living with a catheter, video guides are available showing how to self-catheterise, as well as information on caring for your catheter.

While it is important to be aware of the risks of infection from catheters, remember that catheterisation has incredible advantages. These videos contain personal accounts from men and women who have a long-term catheter, showing how their lifestyles have improved as a result. 

Guidance for healthcare workers

This 2009 guidance from the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee includes a list of appropriate and inappropriate indications for indwelling catheter use. In 2014, this guidance was given a short update.

CAUTIs can cause a huge financial burden. In 2015, Chicago-based magazine Becker’s Hospital Review published 10 things for chief financial officers to know about CAUTIs.

The NHS offers this guidance for excellence in continence care, including information on reducing both harm and costs.

Catheter research in Nottingham

This 2012 paper summarises the findings of Professor Morgan Alexander and his team, who identified a group of materials that are largely resistant to bacterial attachment.   

The breakthrough was announced in this 2012 press release by the University of Nottingham, along with a video offering insight into how the discovery was made.

This 2018 press release announced that these materials had been approved for use in a human trial. Early results indicate that these trials are proving successful. 

Newsletter: 

More from Mosaic

For more information on antimicrobial resistance, check out our recent story ‘Fake drugs: the global industry putting your life at risk’.

In ‘Medicine’s dirty secret’, Bryn Nelson explores a similarly common health taboo.  

Kendall Powell’s story ‘The superhero in your vagina’ focuses on another example of a common bacterial infection for which antibiotics aren’t always effective.