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What to Know About CAUTIs

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 24, 2021

A CAUTI is a catheter-associated urinary tract infection. They are most common in people who need to wear a urinary catheter frequently or for a long time. CAUTIs can have serious health impacts, especially if they are not caught early.

Here’s what you need to know about these infections.

What Causes CAUTIs?

UTIs. A CAUTI is a specific type of urinary tract infection or UTI. These infections can involve any and all parts of your urinary system, including your:

  • ‌Bladder
  • ‌Urethra
  • ‌Kidneys
  • ‌Ureters (the tubes connecting your kidneys to your bladder)

‌UTIs happen when certain dangerous germs make their way into your urinary system. A CAUTI occurs when someone is catheterized. A catheter can introduce bacteria into your system.

Impact of CAUTIs on Your Health

The biggest and most obvious impact of a CAUTI is that it is uncomfortable or even painful. Any UTI will irritate your urinary system. They cause discomfort, bad-smelling urine, and can potentially damage your internal organs. Some of the complications from untreated UTIs include:

  • A narrowed urethra, making it difficult to urinate in the future
  • ‌Kidney damage from chronic or repeated infections
  • Kidney infections from germs moving from your urethra and bladder
  • Sepsis, a potentially deadly body-wide infection from germs leaving the urinary system and entering your bloodstream

Treatment of CAUTIs

First, your doctor will check to see whether you have a CAUTI or another complication. They will test your urine for different types of bacteria and viruses. If these tests are positive, then they will diagnose you with a CAUTI and begin treatment. 

Catheter removal. Depending on the severity of a CAUTI, there are several types of treatment you may be prescribed. In most cases, your doctor will immediately remove your catheter. This eliminates the probable source of the germs, so the risk of the infection coming back is lower.

Medication. Next, your doctor may prescribe you one or more medications to handle the infection. Antibiotics are a common treatment for UTIs caused by bacteria. Depending on the bacteria present and how serious your infection is, you may need to take antibiotics for 1 to 3 weeks. You may only need one antibiotic, or you may have to take several to treat different types of bacteria.

Always follow your doctor’s instructions and complete the course of antibiotics you’ve been prescribed. This helps ensure that your UTI is completely cured and will not return.

Meanwhile, you can also take steps to help resolve your CAUTI on your own. Following your doctor’s guidelines and drinking plenty of water will help your body fight off the infection.

Prevention of CAUTIs

According to the CDC, the biggest risk factor for getting a CAUTI is using a urinary catheter for a long time. These tubes can act as a pathway for bacteria and viruses to enter your body. The easiest way to avoid a CAUTI is to only use a catheter when it’s absolutely necessary. Stop using them as soon as you don’t need them.

In some cases, you may need a catheter for longer periods of time. Long-term catheterization usually takes place in hospitals. Trained medical professionals will help you avoid CAUTIs in such instances.

If you use a catheter at home, take these safety precautions to reduce your risk of a CAUTI:

  • ‌Clean your drainage bags carefully and regularly, following the instructions your doctor gave you.
  • ‌Change your drainage bags regularly, twice per day.
  • ‌Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling anything related to your catheter.
  • ‌Keep your drainage bag below the level of your bladder but off the floor.
  • ‌Shower daily to keep the catheter clean.
  • ‌Always make sure your catheter can drain freely and never kink or block the catheter tube.
  • ‌Check with your doctor regularly to make sure your catheter is still necessary for your health.

When to Get Medical Help

An untreated CAUTI can be very dangerous. You should talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. If you have a catheter in, seek immediate medical assistance if you notice any of the following:

  • ‌A fever of more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • ‌Urinating less than you usually do
  • ‌Your lower abdomen feels sore or tender and you have no urine in your catheter bag
  • ‌Urine smells particularly bad
  • ‌Blood or clots in your urine

‌Any of these is a sign that you may have a CAUTI.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

‌Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: “Toolkit for Reducing Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections in Hospital Units: Implementation Guide.”

American Nurse Today: “Best Practices: CAUTI Prevention.”

‌Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Catheter-associated Urinary Tract Infections,” “Urinary Tract Infection.”

‌MAYO CLINIC: “Antibiotics: Are you misusing them?,” “Urinary tract infection (UTI).”

‌Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center: “Caring for Your Urinary (Foley) Catheter.”

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