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Intermittent Self Catheterisation – a male perspective

We all know that MS isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of a deal. However, there are a few symptoms which are more common than others (for example Fatigue). The other biggie is Bladder Issues.

Now – I’m firmly of the belief that, just because something is said to be common, doesn’t mean that it has to happen to everybody. Having said that, I once went to an information day run by the uk ms society and the session before the first tea break was all about bladder problems. I’ve never seen so many people rushing for the toilet before the end (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of them).

Bladder woes

Over the years I’ve been on various bits of medication for my own toilet issues, and I’ve gone through a bladder retraining programme. But towards the end of last year the endless just-in-case trips to the bathroom before leaving the house (plus journeys planned by toilets, having to scan places for the nearest conveniences when I arrive anywhere)… well, it all just got a bit silly. And not a little depressing for the people in my family.

So I mentioned it to my MS Nurse team and made an appointment for a bladder scan. After two just-in-case toilet trips at home, one more on the journey, and one at the hospital, I was as sure as I possibly could be that THE TANK WAS EMPTY when my scan began. So it was quite a surprise when the nurse said that my bladder was almost full.

Urine retention

This retention of urine explained the constant trips to the toilet as well as feeling that I needed to ‘go’ again immediately afterwards. We talked about the fact that retention was a common issue for people with ms and that there weren’t really many ways to deal with it – certainly no further drug treatments. The best option was to start a programme of Intermittent Self Catheterisation.

Bear in mind, this was the week before Christmas! However, I don’t think there’s ever a great time to get that news. But in the abstract, if that was what needed to be done, I’d get on with it – especially if it would make our travels and journeys easier. So a couple of weeks later, the nurse came to my house to talk me through my first attempt. During my first attempt, the words that came to my mouth (that are fit to repeat here) were “deeply, deeply odd”.

The Nurse agreed – she’d done it on herself as she didn’t think it would be right to tell people to do this without experiencing it. And it is a weird thing to find yourself doing, certainly for the first time – that particular ‘area’ has been strictly one-way traffic before now.

I’ve now been doing this a couple of times a day for over a month and it’s one of the truisms of life with MS (or any kind of lifelong condition and/or situation), but it’s amazing how quickly humans can adapt. Not that I’ve got it all sorted – my technique can be a bit off. But my issues are mostly logistical – when to fit the process in amongst the hurly burly of the school run, if we’re out will the toilet have everything I need, have I got enough supplies, that kind of thing.

Making life easier

But even with all that, it does make it easier. We had a couple of days away the other week and I was able to drive a couple of hundred miles without panicking about finding toilets on the way, and the same was true when we’d arrived.

So what’s the point of all this shameless oversharing? Like I said earlier, if (and it’s a big if) you have MS related bladder issues, you might be able to handle them with medication and/or bladder retraining. If however – through no fault of your own – you are faced with intermittent self catheterisation, it’s really not that bad. I’ve tried out a variety of catheter types before arriving at my chosen options so I’d definitely recommend experimenting before you find a solution that works for you. I have ones for at home, as well as catheters for when I’m out and about which extend out of a plastic tube the size of a pen, which also doubles as its own disposal unit. Pretty neat.

So in conclusion: intermittent self catheterisation. Undoubtedly odd, but not the end of the world if you can maintain the right frame of mind. At the end of the day, it’s just another tool to help you live your life better.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • GinAndPlatonic
    7 months ago

    Hello Steve,
    thank you for your views on isc. I know its been a few years now, but wondered if you could update as to how you are getting along now with self catheterisation. I started isc around four weeks ago and I`m still settling in to a routine. At first I was extremely anxious but Im slowly getting used to it and my frame of mind is calming down.Im interested in the long term implications of isc… Thanks

  • Jilljm
    3 years ago

    It’s like starting injections, you never imagined you’d be doing this but it’s not really that bad!! The intermittent is totally up to you, great to sleep through the night and not worry about outing being spoiled.

  • J R
    3 years ago

    I’m probably going to HAVE to go this route. Kicking and screaming all the way. I’m at the point now where it’s just going to the restroom to change the pad not actually using the toilet. My husband and I are sleeping in different beds because of this. I have Googled people with catheters and there is very few pictures. Actual photo’s not drawings. Very strange and horrified at what few I saw. So no shorts, no skirts.
    What does intermittent mean exactly? Plus I am on daily antibiotics to prevent UTI’s and they say you are pretty much going to a UTI with one. To sleep all not would be beautiful but what about sex? Not that I am having any right now. Totally stressing me out.

  • Steve Woodward author
    3 years ago

    Hi – thanks for reading! In everything I say below, please bear in mind that I am not a health professional, this is all based on my own experiences.
    For a start I am wearing shorts right now – “intermittent” only means you use it when you need to. The Nurse I saw said I should start doing it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and if I’m going out anywhere, I should do it before I leave the house. I asked her if there was a danger in doing it too much – she said no. As far as UTIs go, in my understanding catheterisation will help PREVENT them – as long as you’re pretty fastitidious about hygiene – basically keep your hands and “that area” clean before you catheterise – you should be fine
    I was getting up at least once in the night every night (we were in seperate beds most of the time, too), now I sleep through no problems. My wife is pretty keen on NOT knowing anything about what I’m doing – seeing the size of the catheter freaked her out a bit – but sex is genuinely no problem AT ALL – as I said in the article, knowing when to use the catheter is just a matter of logistics and timing. But I for one feel sexier – and less stressed – when I know there’s nothing in the tank.
    Take care

  • Marie T
    3 years ago

    Thank you for your post. I am a female, but it is a relief to know that it will not be too traumatic if and when self cautherization is needed. One less thing to stress about!

  • Steve Woodward author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for reading – it’s a bit of a weird thing to do at first, but the positives far outweigh the negatives if and when you decide to go down that route.

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