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Tunneled Catheter: What to Expect at Home

Your Recovery

You have had a procedure to give you a tunneled catheter. The catheter is a soft, flexible tube that runs under your skin from a vein in your chest or neck 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 stuck 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.

You will probably have small dressings where the doctor inserted the catheter and where it exits your body. The area may feel sore for a few days.

The dressing where the catheter was put in usually is taken off in 24 hours. If you have stitches here, they will be removed in 10 to 14 days. The stitches where the catheter exits your body will be removed in about 6 weeks. Sometimes glue is used instead of stitches. The glue will fall off as you heal.

There may be a small ring, or cuff, beneath 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, such as tennis or weight lifting.
  • Avoid arm and upper body movements that may pull on the catheter. These movements include heavy weight lifting and vigorous use of your arms.
  • 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 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor okays it. Cover the area and catheter so they don't get wet. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Don't go swimming.


  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • 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.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • 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

  • You will have a dressing over the cut (incision) the doctor made. A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.
  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • When the incision has healed and you do not need a bandage, clean the area around the catheter with soap and water at least one time a day.

Other instructions

  • 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.
  • To help prevent infection, take a shower instead of a bath. Do not go swimming with the catheter.
  • Try to keep the area dry. When you shower, cover the area with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap.
  • 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 call line 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 call 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, or arm 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 have chest pain or shortness of breath.

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

  • You have any concerns about your catheter.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.