What is a Drainage Catheter?

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  • Written By: Pamela Pleasant
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Images By: Sudok1, Jamdesign, Paladin Zhang, Dario Lo Presti
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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A drainage catheter is plastic tubing that can be placed anywhere on or in the body. It is used to remove any unwanted or excess fluids that have accumulated. These catheters are thin and long and made with a bendable, flexible plastic. A large needle is used to direct the catheter to the area that needs to be drained. The size and shape of the drainage catheter depends on what it is being used for.

An over accumulation of fluids within the body can occur for a variety of reasons. After surgery, complications can arise, which requires fluid removal. A lump or abscess can form because of an infection and fluid collection can be imperative to avoid spreading the infection to other areas of the body. Bile, air, blood, or urine can also be removed using a drainage catheter. In some cases, if these fluids are not removed, it can result in permanent damage to the body or even death.

When a drainage catheter has a small circular loop on the end, it is called a pigtail. This catheter is used to drain abscesses that are close to the skin. The circular loop holds the catheter in place so that it cannot be easily removed. A guide wire has to be placed into the loop to remove it.


Biliary catheters are used to collect bile from the gall bladder or liver. The bile can be redirected to the intestines or it can be drained into a bag. It also has a circular or square shaped loop on the end, to reduce slippage. A bile drainage catheter is typically used for a leak or blockage of the bile duct.

If the urine flow is interrupted because of a blockage, a urinary drainage catheter may be used. Plastic tubing is placed into the urethra and it extends to the bladder. The urine is collected in a plastic bag outside of the body. An inflatable hook is used to hold this type catheter in place.

There are many complications that can arise from using a drainage catheter. The latex used to make them can cause allergic reactions. If a bacterium is introduced to the entry site, it can cause a severe, life-threatening blood infection. Prolonged use of a urinary catheter can result in kidney or urinary tract infections. Bladder or kidney stones or the inability to control urine flow can also be a result of continually using a drainage catheter.


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