Information for patients
This leaflet answers common questions about caring for your portacath (which is also known as a ‘port’). If you would like any further information or have any particular worries, please do not hesitate to contact your specialist nurse or doctor.
What is a portacath?
A portacath is a type of central venous line which is a soft, hollow tube that we place into a large vein and leads into the heart. The line can be used to give you fluids, blood products and medicines, and to take blood samples. It is designed to stay in your body for many months or even years.
A portacath is made up of two parts:
- The catheter: One end of the catheter (hollow tube) sits at the entrance to the heart and the other end is connected to the port.
- The port: this is a small metal chamber that is implanted underneath the skin in the chest area. A special needle can be inserted through your skin and into the port so you can have your treatment.
At the end of the procedure, you will see two small scars. One of them is about 1 cm long and is at the base of the neck or just under the collar bone. The other scar is a bit lower down on your chest and is about 3 to 4 cm long. Just underneath this scar you may notice a small bump under your skin, this is the port.
Both scars have dissolvable stitches under the skin – these do not need to be removed. At the end of the procedure a special glue is applied to both scars.
Very occasionally the portacath will be inserted into the vein in your groin or your arm.
Will I need to stay in hospital after my portacath has been inserted?
Most people have their line inserted as a day case under local anaesthetic and intravenous sedation. There is no need to abstain from food beforehand, but you should only have a light breakfast. You may be admitted to hospital to start treatment as soon as the line is inserted, in which case we may leave a needle in your portacath ready for it to be used.
Caring for your portacath
A portacath requires very minimal care and maintenance.
At the end of the procedure a special glue is applied to both scars. The glue is water resistant but not fully waterproof, so try not to get it too wet for the first 7 to 10 days – showering is fine. There is no need to peel off the glue as it sloughs off on its own in a week’s time. Once the scars have healed, there are no restrictions on taking baths, showering and swimming.
When a needle is in place in your portacath, it will be covered with a water-resistant dressing. This dressing is not fully waterproof, so you should try to keep it as dry as possible.
To keep the port open, it needs flushing after any treatment.
Your line should be flushed once a month to prevent it becoming blocked. You may get this done at the hospital or in the community by the district nurses - please talk to your treating team to arrange whichever is more convenient for you.
Using your portacath
The portacath can be used as soon as it inserted. Before use, the skin will be cleaned, and a special needle (called a ‘Huber’ or ‘Gripper’ needle) is pushed through the skin into the port. The needle will be covered with a temporary dressing and your treatments can then be given down the needle. At the end of your treatment the portacath will be flushed and the needle can be removed.
The image below shows a port accessed with a ’Huber’ or ‘Gripper’ needle. A dressing is placed, securing and covering the needle and the access site.
Living with your portacath
Will it be painful afterwards?
Once the local anaesthetic wears off you may find the procedure site tender and uncomfortable – this is normal and should only last a few days. It is fine to take simple painkillers such as paracetamol if required.
Can I have a bath/ shower?
You can shower immediately – the glue is water resistant but not fully waterproof, so try not to get it too wet for the first 7 to 10 days. Once the scars have healed then you can submerge the area.
Can I lead a normal social life?
Having a portacath should not interfere with your social life. However, please talk to your treatment team before planning a trip abroad.
Can I play sports and swim?
Because your portacath is under the skin, it is fine to play sports and exercise; however, try to avoid very vigorous exercise.
You can swim whilst you have a portacath in place.
What happens if something goes wrong?
Redness around the skin where the port sits, or if you have a temperature above 37.5°C, fever, chills or feel generally unwell, are signs of possible line infection. You should speak to your nurse or doctor.
Signs of a blood clot
Pain, swelling or discomfort in your neck or arm on the side of the line insertion could be signs of a blood clot in the vein around the line. You should speak to your nurse or doctor.
If the port becomes blocked, then it may be difficult to aspirate blood or to inject through the line. In most cases, the line should not be used until the problem has been dealt with. Special clot-busting drugs can usually help – please contact your nurse or doctor.
Rarely, the line can irritate the heart and cause abnormal heart rhythms or cause fluid to build up in the sac around the heart. If you feel any palpitations, light-headedness, dizziness or shortness of breath it is important to seek immediate medical advice.
You should not feel pain when the line is being used – if you do, please report this to your nurse or doctor.
How is the portacath removed when it is no longer needed?
The portacath is removed in hospital by making a small cut just above the port. Local anaesthetic is given to numb the area around the port. Dissolvable stitches are used to close the wound and it will be sealed with a special glue. It is important to note that blood samples may be taken and blood thinning medication will be stopped before the removal - this will be arranged by your nurses or your doctor.
Privacy & dignity
Same sex bays and bathrooms are offered in all wards except critical care and theatre recovery areas where the use of high-tech equipment and/or specialist one to one care is required.
We are smoke-free
Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.
Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998. www.cuh.nhs.uk/contact-us/accessible-information/
Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge
Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151