Portacaths are also called ports because they are portals to facilitate intravenous access in patients who require regular intravenous treatment by chemotherapy, antibiotic or antiviral treatment or blood products. They are also used for patients who require frequent blood tests or blood cleansing such as dialysis patients. A catheter is inserted into a vein, usually near the clavicle in the chest area.
The Reasons for flushing
Needles or IV-drips can be attached to the assembly anytime medication needs to be delivered or blood needs to be drawn. This makes the process much more convenient for prolonged treatment since the patient does not need to be stuck with a needle each time. However, the assembly is subject to clogging and must be kept clear in order to continue to be of service. This requires regular portacath flushing to keep blood clots from forming and occluding the catheter or external port. Patients receiving care on an outpatient basis or executing the IV-drip treatments at home must return for regular monitoring of the port. The flushing procedure, however, can be accomplished at home by the patient or a family member when properly trained.
How is it done?
The first step in proper portacath flushing involves sanitizing the area with antiseptic. It is necessary because patients with portacaths are very ill and usually suffer some impairment of the immune system. A small amount of blood is drawn and discarded first to verify the assembly is in working order. Then a saline solution is injected to to clear the line and catheter. Then a heparin saline solution is injected. This is the compound that prevents clots from forming.
The procedure should be followed before any treatment and portacath flushing with saline solution should follow treatment to ensure all medication reaches the blood stream. Heparin solution should not be used more often than twice in a 24-hour period. If multiple treatments are required in a short span of time, then an IV-drip of saline solution should be attached at a slow drip to keep the portal viable. Extension tubing can also be used with saline solution providing a counter to back-flow pressure, which will ensure the portal remains open and ready to use.
How often should it be done?
Periodic monitoring is needed to ensure the assembly remains in good working order. A properly installed catheter that is maintained with proper portacath flushing technique can remain viable for years. If the device does become clogged, it must be removed and an alternative method of medication delivery or blood withdrawal must be instituted until the device is surgically replaced, if medical personnel decide that is the best course of action. The procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthetic.
When not in use, portacath flushing is required at least once a month. If the times between use are much greater than this, then the assembly should be removed. Portacaths make intravenous access simple enough for the patient or a family member to administer medication at home. It also facilitates access at hospitals or clinics for medical personnel and relieves patients from the pain and trauma of frequent needle injections.
Learn more about Portacath Complications.