Living with a urinary catheter

Catheter valves

A catheter valve is a tap-like device that fits into the end of a urethral or suprapubic catheter, which allows urine to be stored in the bladder and emptied straight into the toilet or bag. The tap can be switched on to stop drainage or off to drain urine from the bladder thus allowing the bladder to fill and empty as normally as possible. Most people who have a long-term catheter now use a catheter valve (with or without a bag) because it is generally felt that the bladder should not be kept empty at all times as it reduces bladder capacity and tone. The catheter valve at the end of the catheter acts in a similar way to the tap at the bottom of the leg bag that is used to empty the leg bag when it’s full. Here, people talk about their experiences of drainage bags.

The aims of using a catheter valve are:

  • To get the bladder used to holding a volume of urine again
  • To improve the bladder capacity
  • To get the bladder to hold between 300-500ml of urine
  • To have the catheter valve closed off all day except when the bladder is drained 4-5 times per day by opening the valve for a couple of minutes (or until drainage stops).

Many people prefer to use a catheter valve because it may reduce the risk of infection and blockage by intermittently flushing the catheter with urine. Having a valve without a bag is also more discreet and comfortable than having a drainage bag. There are many different types of valve (e.g. flip flow valves). Overnight, the catheter can be left on free drainage.

Some people we interviewed started using a catheter valve soon after an indwelling catheter was fitted. Some had a valve at the end of the catheter and no leg bag; others had a leg bag as well as a valve. People can choose to use a catheter valve without a urinary drainage bag by regularly opening the valve over a toilet/jug or similar receptacle to drain the bladder. A leg strap can be used to support the catheter tubing and catheter valve. Some people used a catheter valve all the time, without a drainage bag, except when travelling or playing sports.

Pat’s husband Rob used a flip flow valve and a small leg bag. She encouraged him to remember to switch off his valve at some point every day. Rob said that some valve tubes were softer than others and could loosen by the end of the week, causing leaking. Several others talked about the leaking problems they’d had when the valve got caught on clothing and opened, or when they’d forgotten to close it. With a catheter valve, people can bathe or shower as usual and several mentioned switching off the valve before showering.

Several people discussed the advantages of using a valve, but others would have liked more information about the various types of valves available and the benefits of catheter valves.

The catheter valve should be changed every 5-7 days, preferably when the leg bag is replaced. Hands should be washed first and then the bladder emptied by opening the tap. When the urine has drained, the valve can be removed and replaced with a new one. To open the valve, a person must have sufficient use of their hands. Hayley, born with spinal muscular atrophy, would like a new valve designed for people with poor dexterity. She’d like to be able to open and close her own valve instead of relying on her carer James.

Some people with a spinal cord injury also had poor use of the hands so opening a catheter valve or tap was difficult. A few had at first tried using a valve but went onto free drainage (see ‘Drainage bags’).

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Last reviewed October 2018.


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