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Tunnelled Catheter: What to Expect at Home

Your Recovery

You've had a procedure to give you a tunnelled catheter. The catheter is a soft, flexible tube that runs under your skin, usually from a vein in your chest, neck, or groin to a large vein near your heart. You may have it for weeks, months, or longer.

You will now be able to get medicine, blood, nutrients, or other fluids with more comfort. You will not be poked with a needle every time.

You can use the catheter right away. You will be shown how to use it and how to care for it.

There may be a small ring, or cuff, under the skin on the catheter. This helps hold the catheter in place.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Talk to your doctor about what activities you can do. You may not be able to do sports or exercises that use the upper body.
  • Avoid vigorous arm and upper body movements that may pull on the catheter. And don't lift more than 10 lbs.
  • If the catheter is in your groin, talk to your doctor about what activities you can do.
  • You will probably need to take 1 day off from work and will be able to return to normal activities shortly after. This depends on the type of work you do, why you have the catheter, and how you feel.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again. Pay special attention when pulling your seat belt across your chest so it doesn't pull out the catheter. It's okay if the seat belt lays over the catheter.
  • You may shower 1 or 2 days after the procedure, if your doctor says it is okay. Pat the incision dry. Do not put creams, lotions, or ointments on the incision.
  • Do not take a bath, swim, or use a hot tub until the incision is completely healed (no longer has a scab).


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. They will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take aspirin or some other blood thinner, ask your doctor if and when to start taking it again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.

Incision care

  • Your doctor will tell you how to care for the incision at the insertion site. (It's usually on your neck.) It may have stitches, strips of tape, or a gauze dressing. Your doctor will tell you when the stitches will be removed. The strips of tape will fall off in 3 to 5 days. The gauze dressing can be removed after 2 days.
  • Your doctor will tell you how to care for the incision on your chest where the catheter is. It will have a dressing on it. Have someone help you change the dressing regularly. If it becomes wet, loose, or dirty, change your dressing right away.
  • You may get specific incision care if the catheter is in your groin.

Other instructions

  • Go to all appointments to flush the line. This keeps it open. A nurse or other health professional will flush the line.
  • Do not wear jewellery, such as necklaces, that can catch on the catheter.
  • If the catheter breaks, follow the instructions your doctor gave you. If you have no instructions, clamp or tie off the catheter. Then, see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Never touch the open end of the catheter if the cap is off.
  • Never use scissors, knives, pins, or other sharp objects near the catheter or other tubing.
  • If your catheter has a clamp, keep it clamped when you are not using it.
  • Fasten or tape the catheter to your body to prevent pulling or dangling.
  • Avoid clothing that rubs or pulls on your catheter.
  • Avoid bending or crimping your catheter.
  • Always wash your hands before you touch your catheter.
  • Wear loose clothing over the catheter for the first 10 to 14 days. When getting dressed, be careful not to pull on the catheter.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast or uneven pulse.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus or blood draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have swelling in your face, chest, neck, arm, or leg on the side where the catheter is.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as bulging veins near the catheter.
  • Your catheter is leaking, cracked, or clogged.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your catheter.
  • Your catheter is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you pull on the catheter. You may hear a whooshing noise if this happens.
  • You have chest pain or shortness of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have any concerns about your catheter.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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