Internal and External Catheters
There are two types of catheters: internal, and external.
The internal catheter is usually a flexible tube inserted into the urethra, to the bladder. This type of catheter is the stuff of nightmares, the kind of thing that, when a person is in the hospital, and hears the word “catheter,” it sets their teeth on edge and makes them sweat. No one likes these things, not patients, not doctors, not nurses. They're unpleasant, uncomfortable, and have a bad habit of causing urinary tract infections.
The external catheter isn't so bad, although – sorry, ladies – they're mostly for men. There is such a thing as a female external catheter, but most often, women get stuck with the internal variety.
The external catheter for men is pretty similar to a condom. They're often made of latex, although you can get them in silicon, now, too. They're attached the same way as a condom, rolled on to the penis, and they have a tube extending from the tip that leads to a collection device like a bag. Although not exactly the epitome of comfort, they are a lot better than an internal catheter.
They're also less likely to cause urinary tract infections, although they come with their own unique problems. Urine back flow can be one issue, and that can cause infections. Another problem is colorfully termed a “blow out,” and that's when too much urine collects at the tip of the external catheter, causing the catheter to come off, sometimes with some force, and a lot of mess.
Recent medical news reports a lot of improvement in the types of adhesives used in external catheters, though, as well as improvements in how the adhesive is applied to the catheter. These advances help to prevent “blow out” type problems, as well as increasing the comfort of wearing an external catheter.
Between the internal and external catheters, it's pretty obvious that anyone with a choice is going to go with an external catheter. They're easier to apply, a little more comfortable, and generally cause fewer problems. A quick look around online shows that an external catheter isn't even very expensive. If it's necessary to use them at home, they only cost a few dollars, and are very easy for a patient to put on by themselves.
Catheters are no fun no matter which one a person may end up with, but clearly, the external catheter is preferable.