What is an infusion port?

What is an Infusion Port?

An infusion port is a small medical device that is surgically implanted under the skin, typically on the chest or upper arm. It is used to provide easy and quick access to a patient’s bloodstream for medications, blood products, or other treatments without the need for repeated needle sticks.

Infusion ports are also called “port-a-caths” or “implanted ports” and are preferred over traditional peripheral IV lines for long-term use because they have a lower risk of complications like clotting or infection. They are especially useful for patients who will need frequent or continuous infusions, such as chemotherapy or long-term antibiotic therapy.

How does an Infusion Port work?

An infusion port consists of two parts: a small chamber or reservoir made of plastic or metal that is implanted under the skin and a thin flexible tube, called a catheter, that runs from the chamber into a large vein. The catheter is threaded through the vein until the tip rests in a large vein near the heart.

To access the port, a needle is inserted through the skin and into the top of the chamber. The needle is typically inserted at a 90-degree angle to the skin and can be safely left in place for several days to a week. Medications or fluids can then be infused through the needle and into the bloodstream, or blood samples can be taken directly from the port.

The Benefits of Infusion Ports

  • Reduced risk of infection compared to traditional IV lines
  • Improved patient comfort and convenience
  • Potential for long-term use
  • Allows for continuous or frequent infusions
  • Reduces the need for repeated needle sticks

The Risks of Infusion Ports

While infusion ports are generally safe and effective, there are some risks associated with their use:

  • Complications during placement surgery, such as bleeding or infection
  • Blockage or clotting in the catheter or port
  • Pain, swelling, or redness at the insertion site
  • Dislodgment or damage to the catheter or port
  • Infection at the insertion site or in the bloodstream

Who uses Infusion Ports?

Infusion ports are commonly used by patients who require long-term or frequent infusions of medication or other treatments, such as:

  • Cancer patients receiving chemotherapy
  • Hematology patients receiving blood products like platelets or factor replacement therapy
  • Patients on long-term antibiotic therapy for conditions like cystic fibrosis or endocarditis
  • Pain management patients receiving continuous infusions of medications like morphine

How is an Infusion Port inserted?

The insertion of an infusion port is typically done as an outpatient procedure, meaning the patient can go home the same day. The procedure is performed by a surgeon under local anesthesia, which means the patient will be awake but not feel any pain.

The surgeon will make a small incision in the skin where the port will be placed and use a special tool to create a pocket under the skin for the port. The catheter will then be threaded through a vein and into the chamber, which is placed in the pocket under the skin. Once the port is securely in place, the incision will be closed with stitches or surgical glue.

Preparing for Infusion Port Placement

Prior to the procedure, patients will typically be asked to follow specific instructions to prepare, which may include fasting for a certain amount of time, stopping certain medications, or arranging for someone to drive them home afterward. The surgeon or nursing staff will provide detailed instructions for preparation and aftercare.

Aftercare for Infusion Ports

After the procedure, patients will typically be given instructions for aftercare, which may include:

  • Avoiding strenuous activity or heavy lifting for a certain period of time
  • Keeping the site clean and dry
  • Monitoring the site for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or drainage
  • Keeping the port needle and tubing covered with a sterile dressing
  • Keeping the catheter flushed with sterile saline or heparin to prevent blockage or clotting

Caring for an Infusion Port

Caring for an infusion port involves keeping the site clean and dry, as well as regularly flushing the catheter to prevent blockage or clotting. Patients should avoid submerging the port in water, as it may increase the risk of infection. The port should also be covered with a sterile dressing to prevent contamination.

If the port is not being used for an extended period of time, it may need to be flushed with heparin or saline by a healthcare provider to prevent blockage or clotting.

Removing an Infusion Port

When the port is no longer needed, it can be removed in a simple outpatient procedure. The removal process involves making a small incision in the skin over the port and gently pulling the catheter out of the vein. The port chamber is then removed from the pocket under the skin and the incision is closed with stitches or surgical glue.

Conclusion

Infusion ports are a valuable tool for patients requiring long-term or frequent infusions of medications, blood products, or other treatments. They offer improved patient comfort, reduce the risk of infection, and allow continuous or frequent infusions without the need for repeated needle sticks. Patients should carefully follow their healthcare provider’s instructions for preparing for and caring for their infusion port to ensure optimal function and minimize the risk of complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long can an infusion port be left in place?

A: Infusion ports can remain in place for months or even years depending on the individual patient’s needs. They should be checked regularly for signs of infection or other complications and removed when no longer needed.

Q: Are infusion ports painful?

A: While the insertion of an infusion port may cause some discomfort, once the port is in place it should not be painful. Patients may feel some pressure or discomfort when the needle is inserted to access the port, but this should be brief and only last a few seconds.

Q: Can I swim or shower with an infusion port?

A: Patients should avoid submerging the port and catheter in water, as it may increase the risk of infection. However, they can shower normally as long as they keep the site clean and dry and cover the port and catheter with a waterproof dressing.

Q: Can I travel with an infusion port?

A: Patients can travel with an infusion port, but should inform their healthcare provider and take extra care to keep the site clean and dry during travel. It is also important to have a plan in place in case of a medical emergency while traveling.

References:

Jardine DL, Morgan J, Gutteridge DH, et al. Implantable venous access systems: audit of practice in the south Thames region. Postgrad Med J. 1995;71(839):312-314. doi:10.1136/pgmj.71.839.312

Johnston L, Basile A. Implantable vascular access devices. In: Yavuz M, ed. Vascular Access for Hemodialysis VIII. Contributions to Nephrology. Vol 178. Karger Publishers; 2012:189-199. doi:10.1159/000336241

Woo S, Kabongo JML, Kozak R. Care of the patient with an implantable port: adapting policies for patient-centered care. J Infus Nurs. 2012;35(2):123-129. doi:10.1097/NAN.0b013e3182457a63