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What Are Peritoneal Dialysis Catheters?

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  • Written By: A.M. Boyle
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Peritoneal dialysis catheters are the devices used during peritoneal dialysis to bring fluid in and out of a person’s abdomen. The catheter itself is a long, thin, flexible tube that is surgically placed into the abdomen directly below the belly button. A portion of the catheter protrudes from the abdomen so that the cleansing solution can be introduced into the abdomen and later drained when the process is complete.

During the process of peritoneal dialysis, an individual’s peritoneal cavity, a large space within the abdomen, is filled with cleansing solution called dialystate, where it remains for a period of time. Waste products and excess fluids pass through the membrane lining of the abdomen, called the peritoneum, and into the solution. The solution is then drained from the abdomen into a separate waste bag and disposed of. Peritoneal dialysis catheters make this process possible.

The procedure for inserting peritoneal dialysis catheters into a person’s abdomen can be done either under general or local anesthesia. The catheter itself is a soft, flexible tube. It is about 12 inches (approximately 30 cm) long and only a little wider than a drinking straw. About 6 inches (approximately 15 cm) of the catheter tube remain outside of the abdomen. The part of the catheter that is inserted into the abdomen contains many small holes to allow the dialystate to flow in and out quickly.

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There are several types of peritoneal dialysis catheters that are used on patients. The most common type is known as a Tenchkhoff catheter, which is made of a soft silicone, and the end that is inserted into the abdomen is straight. Other types of peritoneal dialysis catheters, such as the Missouri Swan Neck, have a coiled end that is inserted into the peritoneal cavity. Regardless of the type of catheter used, all of them have small, rounded protrusions, or cuffs, generally made of a polyester material that merges with the scar tissue after surgery and helps seal the wound to hold the catheter firmly in place.

Generally, people who have peritoneal dialysis catheters in place can go about their normal lives without much concern for the catheter. It is usually held in place by soft paper tape and can be easily hidden beneath a person’s clothing. An individual with a catheter of this type is not restricted with regard to bathing or even swimming but is generally advised to avoid hot tubs or swimming in rivers, ponds, or lakes in order to avoid the possibility of infection.

A person must take precautions when handling or using the catheter to avoid the risk of infection. For instance, when undergoing the peritoneal dialysis treatment, a person should wear surgical gloves and a surgical mask so as not to contaminate the site. Also, the end of the catheter that protrudes from the abdomen should always be thoroughly cleaned with an antiseptic solution before and after use.

If properly cared for, peritoneal dialysis catheters typically last about two years before needing replacement. The site of the catheter, though, should be monitored for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pain. A person should also watch the area for signs of leakage around the catheter site. If any of these conditions are found, the catheter might need to be replaced to avoid serious complications.

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