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Vascular Access Port Implantation 

Port implantation is surgery to place (implant) a port under the skin. For vascular access, it is placed into a vein. The port allows medications or nutrition to be sent straight into your bloodstream. Blood can also be taken or given through the port. During the procedure, a long, thin tube called a catheter is threaded into one of your large veins. The tube is then attached to the port. This usually sits under the skin of the chest and causes a small bump. To use the port, a special needle is passed through the skin and into the port. The needle can stay in the skin for up to 7 days, if needed. A port can stay in place for weeks or months or longer.

Outline of man's chest showing heart inside. Port is under skin of upper right chest. Tube from port is inserted into vein leading to heart.

Why is a vascular access port needed?

A vascular access port may allow health care providers to give you:

  • Chemotherapy or other cancer-fighting drugs

  • IV treatments, such as antibiotics or nutrition

  • Hemodialysis (for kidney failure)

The port may also be used to draw blood.

Before the procedure

Follow any instructions you are given on how to prepare. Be sure your provider knows:

  • All medications, herbs, or supplements you take

  • If you are or might be pregnant

  • If you are allergic to any medications or substances, especially local anesthetics or iodine

  • Your complete medical history including why you will need the port

  • If you plan on doing any contact sports

During the procedure

  • Before the procedure, an IV may be put into a vein in your arm or hand. This gives you fluids and medications. Medication to help you relax during the procedure may be given through the IV. This is called sedation. However, some surgeons place ports using general anesthesia.

  • The chest is used most often for the port. In some cases, abdomen (belly) or arm is used instead.

  • The skin over the insertion area is numbed with local anesthetic.

  • Ultrasound or X-rays are used to help the doctor guide the catheter into the proper location during the procedure.

  • An incision is made in the skin where the port will be placed. A small “pocket” for the port is formed under the skin.

  • A second small incision is made in the skin near the first incision. A “tunnel” under the skin is created. The catheter is put through the tunnel and into the blood vessel.

  • The skin is closed over the port. It is held shut with sutures (stitches) or surgical glue or tape. The second small incision is also closed.

  • A chest X-ray may be done to make sure the port is placed properly.

After the procedure

You may be taken to a recovery room where you’ll recover from the sedation. Nurses will check on you as you rest. If you have pain, nurses can give you medication. If you are not staying in the hospital overnight, you will be sent home a few hours after the procedure is done. A healthccare provider will tell you when you can go home. When you leave the hospital, an adult family member or friend will need to drive you.

Recovering at home

  • Take pain medication as directed by your doctor.

  • Take it easy for 24 hours after the procedure. Avoid physical activity and heavy lifting until your doctor says it’s OK.

  • Keep the port clean and dry. Ask when you can return to showering. You will need to keep the port dry by covering it when you shower.

  • Care for the insertion site as you are directed.

  • Don’t swim, bathe, or do other activities that cause water to cover the insertion site.

  • To keep the port from getting blocked with blood clots, flush it as often as directed. You should receive instruction in the proper technique for flushing the port before you go home. It is important to follow these directions.

 

Risks and possible complications of implantation

  • Bleeding

  • Infection of the insertion site

  • Damage to a blood vessel

  • Nerve injury or irritation

  • Collapsed lung (for chest port placements)

  • Breakdown of skin over the port

Risks and possible complications of having a port

  • Blockage of port or catheter

  • Leakage or breakage of the port or catheter

  • Dislodgement of port

  • Blood clot

  • Skin or bloodstream infection

  • Breakdown of skin over the port

 

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor right away for any of the following:

  • A fever of 101.5°F38.6° C or higher

  • You cannot access or use the port properly

  • You cannot flush the port or get a blood return

  • The skin near the port is red, warm, swollen, or broken

  • You have shoulder pain on the side where the port is located

  • You feel a heart flutter or racing heart 

  • Swollen arm, if the port is placed in the arm

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Last Review Date: 10/2/2014
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