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What Is an Introducer Sheath?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
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An introducer sheath is a medical device used for venous access in procedures like angioplasties. It holds a vessel open and allows practitioners to insert other tools safely into the area of interest. Medical manufacturers produce a range of introducer sheath products for different applications, in sterile packaging designed for ease of use. The best option for a given case can depend on the type of procedure and the patient’s vascular health.

To use the device, a medical professional inserts an introducer needle to access the vein, threads a guide wire into the vessel, and then feeds in the introducer sheath. It can be sutured in place to make sure it doesn’t move, and includes a length of flexible tubing designed to avoid straining the vessel. Instruments can be passed through the device and up into the vessel for activities like injecting dyes during medical imaging studies or removing arterial plaque in angioplasty procedures.

They can also be used for procedures like placing catheters. Patients may have an introducer sheath left in place while in intensive care to maintain venous access, although this can come with some risks. There is a chance of infection, for example, or injury to the walls of the blood vessel caused by the tip of the sheath if the device becomes dislodged. Health care workers need to monitor the patient closely for signs of complications so they can take appropriate steps, if necessary.

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Before a procedure, the medical provider who will be performing it may evaluate the patient to determine the best type and size of introducer sheath to use. Pre-surgical planning can also include looking at medical imaging studies of the area of interest, interviewing the patient to collect a complete history, and meeting with other members of the care team to discuss specific concerns. During the procedure, imaging and monitoring can help identify complications like ruptures to the vessel wall caused by advancing the sheath too forcefully or quickly.

Patients with medical devices like catheters, ports, and sheaths can discuss them with their medical providers. It may be necessary to be careful around the device and to observe some special hygiene precautions to prevent infection. Awareness of potential complications and side effects is also advised, so the patient can quickly report anything abnormal that might be a sign of a problem. Sharp pain around the insertion site, for example, can be a cause for concern, as can tingling, irritation, or changes in skin color and texture.

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