A urinary catheter valve is like a small tap or switch fitted directly to your urinary catheter instead of a drainage bag.
This means that when the valve is closed (faces up), urine is stored in your bladder.
You can use the valve both for urethral catheters (the tube that carries urine out of the bladder) and suprapubic catheters (through your tummy).
How the catheter valve works
The catheter valve works in the same way as the drainage valve of a urinary bag:
- To let urine out: turn the lever down (towards the floor) to open the valve mechanism and let urine out.
- To close: turn the level up (towards your head) to close the valve mechanism.
There are many different types of valves available. Although they might look different they all work in very similar ways.
When you can have a catheter valve
You can have a catheter valve if you:
- need to use a catheter for more than a few days
- had a catheter attached to a bag for several weeks or months and you are planning a trial without the catheter
- need a catheter for the rest of your life
Benefits of using a valve
Valves have a number of benefits. They:
- are small and discreet
- are more comfortable than carrying a urine bag on your leg or on a stand
- help you manage your bladder problem independently from others
- reduce the risk of hurting your bladder and other sensitive parts of your body as you minimise carrying tubes and the weight of the urine bag on the outside of your body
- help you to keep mobile and encourage use of hands and dexterity
- maintain your bladder’s elasticity and capacity as you keep using your bladder
- may help reduce other complications such as catheter blockages and infections
- help you keep your day and night time body rhythm, if used in the day and at night
Valves can be connected to leg-bags and 2-litre bags. This is useful if you have night time bladder problems.
You can leave the valve’s lever open to drain urine directly into a bag without having to wake up to use the toilet.
If you cannot get to the toilet safely to empty your valve you can use a valve and bag connected together.
You can turn the valve open at regular intervals to drain urine into the bag.
This will still be beneficial to your bladder health particularly if you are using a catheter long-term.
Remember, you can use bottles, bowls, small buckets or other containers to empty your bladder through the valve. You do not have to go to the toilet unless it is safe to do so.
Reasons not to use a valve
You should not use a valve if you have:
- poor hand movement preventing you from operating the valve independently
- very poor memory
- serious problems with your kidneys. A health professional should help you finding out if this is the case.
- an acute urinary tract infection
- reduced bladder capacity
- no bladder sensation (feelings). Your continence nurse or your health professional will advise you
If you have bladder contractions (spasms) or if you have been using a drainage bag for a very long time, your bladder might not work well with a valve.
You may have to open the valve very frequently to drain your bladder as a result of your bladder having become small bladder or because of spasms.
You may also experience urinary leakage outside the catheter.
A continence nurse or health professional can advise you further
How often to empty your bladder using the valve
- If you have bladder sensation, you will feel when your bladder is getting full and when it is time to empty it.
- If your bladder sensation is affected but you have a good memory you can empty your valve 2 to 4 hours every day. You should be able to store urine at night or if this does not work you can attach the valve to a bag and leave it on free drainage at night.
- If you have bladder spasms you may need to empty your bladder more often at day and night time. Speak to your continence nurse or health professional as there may be ways we cam help with this problem.
How often to change the valve
Catheter valves are normally changed every 5 to 7 days.
If you or your carer can change the valve you will receive more information about how to do it safely.
Sometimes a district nurse, staff nurse or other health professional will change the valve for you.
It is a good idea to write the last date of change on the valve or on a calendar to remind you when the next change is needed.
Throwing away the old valve
When you replace the valve you can throw away the old one in a normal domestic bin.
You can wrap it up in a piece of toilet paper or kitchen roll or a small nappy bag before throwing it away.
Preventing infections and complications
Catheter valves must be changed avoiding contamination of the catheter. If you wish to change your own valve ensure you have received training to do so.
Remember to always wash your hands before and after touching the valve.
If you wear fairly tight underwear you might be able to tuck the valve inside it. Alternatively consider using a catheter securement device. This is like a plaster or soft strap to prevent pulling of the catheter and valve.
If you drain urine into a receptacle ensure it is rinsed with water and soap on a daily basis. You can bath or shower regularly with a catheter and valve.
If you do not bath or shower: ensure that catheter, valve and the point of catheter exit from your body are cleaned daily with warm water and soap.
If your valve is not working properly
It is very unlikely for a valve to stop working because of mechanical problems. If your valve is not draining any urine:
- Make sure you have drunk enough fluids. Sometime hot weather, running a temperature or other illnesses (such as sickness or diarrhoea) can make you lose a lot of fluids with less urine being produced.
- Check the catheter to make sure the tube is not kinked. Re-position it if necessary.
- Check the valve and make sure you have turned the lever down all the way. Some valves have a safety feature and will not start draining until the lever is turned down all the way.
- Make sure you are not heavily constipated as this may stop the catheter from draining. You can prevent constipation by eating a healthy diet and drinking enough fluids (1.5 to 2 litres a day on average).
- If you feel discomfort in your tummy or your bladder feels full or painful, it is very likely that the catheter has become blocked. Contact your district nurse or other team in charge of your care (such as at home services, rapid response services), or an out-of-hours doctor. They should prioritise your call to avoid hospital admission and replace your catheter and valve.
- At home, keep a spare catheter, lubricating gel, a dressing pack and a spare valve for unplanned changes. All of these are available on prescription from your GP or home delivery service
Resource number: 4662/VER2
Last reviewed: March 2019 | Next review: November 2021
A list of sources is available on request.