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What Is a Surgical Drain?

After a surgical procedure, doctors will either allow a wound to drain on its own or apply a tubing system known as a surgical drain.
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  • Written By: Dorothy Bland
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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Following a surgical procedure, surgeons will either allow a wound to drain on its own or apply a tubing system known as a surgical drain to help fluids, blood, and pus escape from the wound site. The surgical drain is not generally capable of causing the wound to heal any faster. It can, however, provide adequate drainage that may help keep fluids from accumulating and becoming another source of infection.

The type of surgical drain used will differ depending on the type of surgery being performed. One of the more well-known systems that could be used for wound care is the Jackson Pratt (JP) drain. The surgical drain features a soft rubber bulb and plastic tubing that runs from the incision. The bulb sucks in air from the tube, allowing suction to pull in fluid from the site of the incision. JP drains are often used for major surgical procedures such as spinal, abdominal, and neck surgeries because large amounts of drainage are generally expected.

Another type of drainage device is the penrose drain. The device features a soft rubber tube and somewhat resembles a flat ribbon in appearance. The tube is left within the site of the surgical wound and generally sticks out of the body by a few inches to allow drainage.

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Most of the time a surgical drain will require the patient to administer self-care at home, and patients will usually be taught how to care for the drain before leaving the hospital. Often patients will be cautioned to keep the wound secured close to their body and to avoid dislodging the suction device. Usually, the drainage container will need to be emptied once or twice every day, and patients are generally told to monitor the amount of fluid drained and to check for leakage around the device and for blood. The patient is also typically taught how to stop the suctioning for drainage and how to restart the device.

A surgical drain is usually removed within a week after surgery at the patient’s post-operative follow-up. When complications occur, however, such as a large increase in the amount of drainage or the drain begins to leak, patients are usually directed to call their surgeon for immediate wound treatment. If the drain suddenly begins to fill up with bright red blood or the patient has a high fever, patients should usually seek out emergency medical assistance.

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