What is a Pigtail Catheter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2019
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A pigtail catheter is a medical device designed to be inserted into the body for the purpose of drainage or introducing fluids like soluble dyes for medical imaging studies. These catheters are produced by many medical supply companies and are available in a range of lengths and sizes to meet different needs. They can be ordered through supplier catalogs by medical practitioners for use in clinical and hospital settings.

Like other catheters, the pigtail catheter is a long, flexible tube that can be guided into the body. The design of this particular style includes small holes that allow for drainage and a coiled end. The coiled end acts to hold the catheter in place, and it can also be used to slow the flow of fluids injected through the catheter so that they do not burst out in a jet and cause injuries or obscure a medical imaging study.


One reason to use this type of catheter is to drain body fluid. The catheter is equipped to handle clear fluids that are not heavily coagulated, like urine, bile, and pancreatic fluid. Medical practitioners can use one to provide drainage if a patient has a blockage that makes it impossible to clear the fluid independently. The catheter ensures that fluid does not build up and cause pain and pressure, and it can be attached to a bag to collect the fluid. Collecting the fluid improves sanitation, allows practitioners to measure output, and provides a supply of fluid for sampling, if necessary.

Another use for the pigtail catheter is in medical imaging studies that use tracer dyes. The catheter can be threaded into place and then used to introduce the dye to the area of interest. The design allows the dye to diffuse evenly across the area so that it will be visible on the imaging study without clouding or obscuring the image. Once the dye is dispersed, the catheter can be removed and the body can eliminate the dye on its own over the course of several days.

These catheters are usually sold in single use sterile packaging. When one is needed, a package with the right size can be selected and opened for use with a specific patient. There are procedures that must be followed when preparing to insert a catheter to sterilize the site of insertion and keep the surrounding area clean so that bacteria are not introduced into the body.


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Post 7

Pigtail catheters are basically used in draining fluids or air from pleural spaces internally. Catheters are very commonly used in treating urinary disorders such as bladder and kidney ailments.

Post 6

Can you give anti-coagulants to a patient for DVT treatment while pigtail is still ongoing for pleural effusion?

Post 5

@Mmmo: The swan neck catheter is a different catheter that is usually inserted in your neck vessels and threaded to the heart. This helps the providers and nurses determine certain aspects of how the patient's heart and lungs are performing to guide them in their plan of care.

@Googlefanz: I don't think an external pigtail catheter exists. The main purpose of this catheter is go in the space between your lung and it's "outer" layer.

@TunaLine: They usually numb you up pretty well to insert this and may give additional IV drugs to help with pain and anxiety. Since it's smaller than a regular chest tube, it is not as painful.

Post 4

I would like to know if pigtail type catheter is known by this name in Europe, or is a regionalism. The same for a swan neck catheter.

Post 3

Does anybody know if it is possible to have an external pigtail catheter? I don't think so, but my cousin swears it's possible.

See, I would think that the external part would completely ruin the purpose of the pigtail design, but I wasn't sure.

Does anybody know?

Post 2

@TunaLine -- I had a roommate in college that had a collapsed lung (long story). However, they used a pleural pigtail catheter for his pneumothorax, and he said that it wasn't really all that painful.

I mean, it didn't feel fantastic or anything, but it wasn't painful.

And apparently, from a quick google search on the subject, pigtail chest tubes and catheters are actually less painful than their older counterparts.

It seems that they require a smaller incision than traditional chest tubes, and so they aren't as painful.

Post 1

That's so interesting -- but wouldn't it hurt going in? I would think that the spiral design could't feel too great on insertion.

Has anyone had one of these things, or know if a pigtail catheter is painful?

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