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Catheter disassembled

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Steven C. Campbell, M.D., Ph.D.


In medicine a catheter is a tube that can be inserted into a body cavity, duct or vessel. Catheters thereby allow drainage or injection of fluids or access by surgical instruments. The process of inserting a catheter is catheterisation. In most uses a catheter is a thin, flexible tube: a "soft" catheter; in some uses, it is a larger, solid tube: a "hard" catheter.

History and etymology

The ancient Egyptians created catheters from reeds. "Katheter" originally referred to an instrument that was inserted such as a plug. The word "katheter" in turn came from "kathiemai" meaning "to sound" with a probe. The ancient Greeks inserted a hollow metal tube through the urethra into the bladder to empty it and the tube came to be known as a "katheter"


Placement of a catheter into a particular part of the body may allow:

A central venous catheter is a conduit for giving drugs or fluids into a large-bore catheter positioned either in a vein near the heart or just inside the atrium. A Swan-Ganz catheter is a special type of catheter placed into the pulmonary artery for measuring pressures in the heart.

A Touhy borst adapter is a medical device used for attaching catheters to various other devices.

An external male condom catheter (Slang term: Texas Condom) is not a true catheter, as it is not inserted into a body cavity duct or vessel. Rather, this is a condom-like device with a plug where the condom's reservoir tip would be, and an adhesive at the base. This device allows for urinary catheterization without the insertion of a true catheter, and forms part of a Stadium buddy.


The modern application of the catheter was in use at least by 1868 when Dr. N.B.Sornborger patented the Syringe and Catheter (patent #73402) with features for fastening it to the body and controlling the depth of insertion.

David S. Sheridan was the inventor of the modern disposable catheter in the 1940s. In his lifetime he started and sold four catheter companies and was dubbed the "Catheter King" by Forbes Magazine in 1988. He is also credited with the invention of the modern "disposable" plastic endotracheal tube now used routinely in surgery. Prior to his invention, red rubber tubes were used, sterilized, and then re-used which often led to the spread of disease and also held a high risk of infection. As a result Mr Sheridan is credited with saving thousands of lives.

In the early 1900s, a Dubliner named Walsh and a famous Scottish urinologist called Norman Gibbon teamed together to create the standard catheter used in hospitals today. Named after the two creators, it was called the Gibbon-Walsh catheter.

The Gibbon catheter and the Walsh catheter have been described and their advantages over other catheters shown. The Walsh catheter is particularly useful after prostatectomy for it drains the bladder without infection or clot retention. The Gibbon catheter has largely removed the necessity of emergency prostatectomy. It is also very useful in cases of urethral fistula. A simple procedure such as dilatation of the urethra and passage of a Gibbon catheter often causes the fistula to close. This catheter is also of use in the treatment of urethral stricture and, as a temporary measure, in the treatment of retention of urine caused by carcinoma of the prostate


  1. Practical approach to nephrostomy

See also

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ar:قسطرة de:Katheter he:צנתר nl:Katheter nn:Kateter no:Kateter sk:Katéter fi:Katetri sv:Kateter