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What is a Portacath?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A portacath is a medical device which is designed to facilitate access to the venous system. A number of companies make these devices, including the Port-A-Cath®, one of the most famous examples. This device is recommended for patients who have to undergo frequent medical procedures which involve the venous system, such as chemotherapy sessions, parenteral nutrition, blood tests, or delivery of blood products and other drugs.

The device consists of a catheter which is threaded into a vein, and a reservoir which is implanted under the skin. The reservoir is covered in a bubble made of silicone. To use the port, a medical practitioner simply pushes a needle into the silicone bubble, and performs the desired task. Periodically, the device also needs to be flushed to eliminate the risk of developing blood clots.

These devices are inserted in an outpatient surgical procedure under conscious sedation. Once the surgical site heals, the portacath is entirely under the skin, which allows the patient to swim and engage in many other activities without needing to worry about causing an infection or irritating the port. When the port is no longer needed, it can be removed in a second surgery.

Ports create small lumps under the skin which are noticeable, but not obtrusive. Numerous sites can be used for placement, and a doctor can discuss placement with the patient to find the best location. Potential complications of the device include infections, the development of blood clots, and lung punctures. As long as the portacath is placed correctly and well cared for, these complications can be minimized.

Several different configurations are available, with various materials used in the construction of the device. Doctors can determine the most appropriate choice on the basis of the placement and the patient's condition. Another consideration is the length of time for which the port will be left in place, as the doctor will want to avoid the need for replacement.

Using a portacath has a number of advantages. For health care providers, the port eliminates the need to spend time searching for a vein and placing a catheter. Patients also experience less pain and discomfort when the device is used, and they don't have to suffer through multiple needlesticks. In the case of patients who need numerous procedures, the portacath also eliminates the issue of having to hunt for a usable vein, which can be a common, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous problem.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Milhil7 — On Jun 13, 2011

@cupOtea - There are many types of catheters and there is no telling what type she had.

However, it sounds like if she was a diabetic and at home getting treatments with dialysis involved, she had some type of catheter system that was being used to deliver probably something called CAPD, or continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis.

If she was able to walk around pulling a stand with a hanging bag attached to it, that is what it probably was. Gravity was making the contents of the bag go into her abdominal cavity and was cleaning fluids that went into her body and then they were being removed into the bag along with wastes from the body. That is what this process does in replacing the normal job the kidneys do, which is filtering our wastes and getting rid of them. Usually the process is repeated about 3-4 times daily.

Great care needs to be taken when doing this process in handling the catheter tips, etc as infections can set in. Family members are usually taught how to do this and help with the procedure.

By cupOtea — On Jun 10, 2011

My mother-in-law came home from the hospital with possibly one of these type of catheters, I'm thinking. She was a diabetic and she was having some kind of home treatments for dialysis. Do you know what that might have been?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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