Intermittent Self-Catheterisation: What it is & my experience

Probably the most questions I received on my latest instagram story were about self-catheterising. So I decided to do my first catheter themed blog based on this and I also filmed a video talking about the products I found helpful whilst self catheterising. Please note that this is only my opinion based on advice I have been given and the experiences I have had. This should not replace professional medical advice.

Whether ISC-ing is ahead of you, or maybe you are a seasoned pro or maybe you just interested about learning about them, I hope that sharing my experience helps you. It can feel overwhelming, scary and isolating venturing into the world of catheters. None of it is glamorous and at some point you will probably cover yourself and your bathroom floor (and my boyfriends feet whilst on a plane!) with pee. Although I have some lovely urology nurses, each time I was given a new form of catheter I was sent out of the hospital with nothing more than a generic leaflet about it and sometimes not even that. The most useful tips I have learnt is from all my wonderful catheter pals on Instagram and through my experiences.

What is intermittent self-catheterisation?

Otherwise known as ISC or self-cathing, is a way to help your bladder when it is unable to empty fully yourself. It is when you insert a small catheter either at timed intervals or when you feel you need to go throughout the day. The reasons why you need to self catheterise can vary from spinal injuries to neurological conditions to muscles/sphincter not working as it should. If you can ISC, Medical professionals prefer it over indwelling catheters that stay in you all the time as there is less of an infection risk with self catheters.

How do you ISC?

The process involves preparing the area and yourself by ensuring everything you need is out ready so that when you wash your hands you touch nothing else but your catheter. It is common to use a mirror to help you get it in although some absolute pro's can do it without one (not me!). It can be fairly quick procedure, especially when you get the hang of it and need to do it multiple times a day.

Your urology nurse will show you and let you practice in front of her a few times, its actually not as hard as you think it will be! I remember watching the video and it said "be careful not to put it inside your vagina" and I laughed and said ha how silly to get those confused..and how silly I was, your anatomy isn't as clear as in diagrams! Deep breaths, take your time, get a system in place so you don't miss out important steps and don't be harsh on yourself if you struggle especially in the first few weeks.

I found Bladder and Bowel have a great instruction sheet and Coloplast have really helpful videos to watch about ISC-ing and how bladders function.

What extra products did I find helpful?

I decided to film myself as it was a lot easier so way to describe the products I used than writing an essay of a blog. I apologise in advance that the video doesn't have any captions (not quite worked out how to add those yet).


The products I mention are a combination of items given to me as part of my order which are free on the NHS, and some items such as mirror and additional wipes/bowls I have purchased to make it easier. I recommend having a place in your bathroom where all your supplies are on hand together making it quick to get everything out and put away again. Direct links to these products are:

- Hospital sick bowl/pee pot

- Mirror

- Another mirror I have

My experience with ISC?

As I mention in my video, I personally found ISC-ing very painful. I don’t want to put anyone off as some people REALLY suit catheterising. I know some find it uncomfortable but its manageable whereas I found it really painful each time.This was because my urethral sphincter spasms so much, it clamps down making it hard to get a catheter in or out at times. It would also prevent urine draining out mid-flow leaving me in retention despite catheterising. I started off only needing to catheterise 2-3 times a day which was just about okay, but as my function continued to decrease I was needing to catheterise 6-7 times a day to stay on top of retention. I wasn’t able to empty enough due to pain in my urethra from repeatedly catheterising so it became agony, and then of course the cycle of infections started again due to the urine sitting in my bladder. However I kept trying and managed to self-catheterise for almost a year until the retention built up leading to 1.5L being drained out of my bladder in hospital!

Like I said, this is my experience and won't be the same for everyone. I would definitely try ISC if it is an option for you before jumping down the route of any other catheters as not having a tube in you constantly is way nicer. That being said, if its painful and you are struggling don't feel like a failure (like I did) it is not your fault that self-cathing doesn't suit your body. We are the experts on our bodies and we have to have to listen to it to find the best option for us at getting pee out of our bodies.

Please email me on activelyautoimmune@gmail.com or DM on @activelyautoimmune if you want to discuss anything about ISC-ing further. Happy to help if I can!

Lots of love,

Zoe xx

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