Understanding the Different Types of Catheters

understanding the difference between catheter types

At 180 Medical, we believe it’s important to be as informed as you can be when it comes to the medical products like catheters and ostomy supplies, which we know are crucial to your health, your independence, and your overall wellbeing.

We’ve put together some information about the different types of catheters available on the market as well as the benefits each type can provide. This way, you can make the right decision with your treating physician about what kind of intermittent catheter to use.

Basics of Intermittent Catheters

The first thing you should know is that there is no single catheter type that works best for everyone across the board since everyone has different needs and anatomies.

Catheter Materials

catheter materials and typesThere are different materials that catheters are composed of, and each one offers different benefits to the catheter-user.

The main catheter materials to know are:

  • Plastic, vinyl, or PVC
  • Silicone
  • Red rubber (most often composed with latex)
  • Antibacterial coating
  • Varieties made without chemicals like DEHP or potential allergens like natural rubber latex

For example, if you prefer a more rigid catheter, you might like vinyl catheters. If you want something very flexible, a red rubber catheter might be a better option.

A big part of this selection comes down to personal preference, but a catheter expert at 180 Medical can help you narrow your selection down if you’re unsure what would feel best for your needs.

Catheter French Sizes and Lengths

Catheter French size (which is the diameter of the catheter tube) must be determined by your prescribing healthcare professional, but you can let them know if a catheter feels too small or too large. Most

French sizes are available in pediatric sizes, even for infants, and up to adult sizes that range, on average, between 12 FR to 20 FR. There are also specialty sizes that go above this range.


catheter french size identification

There are also different lengths of catheters available to accommodate for the human body’s various urethral lengths.

The three main catheter lengths to know are:

  • Male length catheters (typically 16 inches)
  • Female length catheters (most often 6 to 8 inches)
  • Pediatric length catheters (10 inches)

Catheter Insertion Tips


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There are two main kinds of catheter insertion tips:

  • Straight tip
  • Coudé tip

The majority of catheter users are able to use a straight tip catheter, which is the standard. The other option, coudé tip catheters, feature a curve in the insertion tip that are designed to work better for those who that have difficulty passing a straight catheter.

Since this need occurs most often in males due to conditions like an enlarged prostate or other reason for urethral blockage, coudé catheters are typically available in male length or pediatric length.

If you think you need a coudé catheter, please let your doctor know. They must make the official determination on which catheter insertion tip is right for you.

straight intermittent catheter compared to coudé tip

These variations in material, length, French size, and insertion tips are available in each of the three main intermittent catheter types.

3 Most Common Types of Intermittent Catheters

The three types of urethral intermittent catheters to know about are:

Straight Intermittent Catheters

The straight catheter is considered the standard and features much of the original technology of catheters. However, advancements continue, and there are new innovations with straight catheters to increase comfort and convenience, such as polished or recessed drainage eyelets to make insertion and withdrawal feel smoother.

Since straight intermittent catheters are uncoated, they need to be lubricated before use. This can be done with the contents of a sterile, single-use packet or your desired amount from a tube of lubricating jelly.

straight intermittent catheters 180 medical

As with all intermittent catheters, the insertion tip of the catheter is on one end and has one to four drainage eyelets, depending on make and manufacturer. This tip goes into your urethra or stoma to drain the bladder.

The other end usually has a funnel that can be used as a grip to direct your urine toward a toilet or another receptacle, or it can be used as a connector for a collection bag.

Some people prefer their catheter without a funnel. This is called a luer end catheter.

straight intermittent catheters

Hydrophilic Intermittent Catheters

Hydrophilic catheters are very similar to straight intermittent catheters. What sets this type of catheter apart from the rest is a special coating of a hydrophilic
polymer that acts as lubrication once activated by water.

The hydrophilic coating is bonded to the surface of the catheter and becomes slippery when wet. This makes catheterization more comfortable and reduces friction in the urethra.

hydrophilic intermittent catheters 180 medical

Most variations of hydrophilic catheters include a sterile water packet inside the catheter package that will burst easily with applied pressure. This soaks the catheter and activates its lubrication.

Hydrophilic catheters are a great option because of their optimal comfort and ease of use, whether you’re cathing at home, work/school, or on the go.

hydrophilic intermittent catheters

Closed System Catheters

Closed system catheters are unique because the pre-lubricated or hydrophilic catheter is housed inside a sterile collection bag, which is a self-contained environment. Depending on the brand, the collection bag will vary in size, but most are metered so you can measure your output.

Because the system is completely integrated as one piece, you can self-cath anywhere you have privacy if a restroom is not easily or immediately available.

closed system catheter illustration 180 medicalClosed systems are a great option for reducing the risk of UTIs and bladder infections for a few reasons:

1. Closed system catheters are “touch-free,” because you never touch the catheter tube directly.

2. A soft, pre-lubricated cover known as an introducer tip helps the catheter get past the highest concentrations of bacteria as you insert it. This reduces the possibility of pushing pathogens up the urethra and into the bladder, which minimizes the risk of infection.

3. Many closed system catheters also come with insertion supplies that help you prepare for cathing. Many catheter kits like this will include cathing accessories such as gloves, an underpad or drape, gauze, disinfecting wipes or swabs, and even a refuse bag to maintain your privacy after you’re done.

Closed systems are popular with those who are in wheelchairs because it gives them the ability to intermittently self-cath without having to transfer from their chair to a toilet every time. It’s also in demand with frequent travelers and those who prefer the convenient, hygienic packaging.

closed system catheter kits


What Type of Catheter is Right for Me?

The decision about what type and size of intermittent catheter to use should be made with your prescribing physician after a thorough assessment of your medical condition and needs.

At 180 Medical, we understand that talking about personal issues like the need for catheters may sometimes feel embarrassing. When you call us to get your first order started, you can rest assured knowing that your questions and concerns will be treated with the respect and compassion that you deserve.

We also recognize that you are a unique individual with unique needs. Our catheter experts will take all of that into consideration as we work to customize and tailor your catheter supply order based on your doctor’s prescription, your insurance plan’s coverage, and your preferences.

Together, we can find the right catheter from one of the many brands we carry.

Get in touch with us today at 1-877-688-2729 to discuss your options!

Call Toll-Free (877) 688-2729

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About the Author
180 Medical is a nationally-accredited provider of intermittent catheters, incontinence supplies, and ostomy products.

Our highly trained specialists are glad to contribute information like their extensive product knowledge, fun happenings at 180 Medical, charitable events across the country, and more.