Typically, if a healthcare provider needs to draw blood or administer medication into the bloodstream of a patient, they’ll use an IV. However, in certain cases, a port might be necessary. In this blog, learn what a port is, why someone might need one, how the port placement works, and more.
What is a Port and Why Would You Need One?
Think of a port — also called a port-a-cath — as an artificial vein. Veins carry blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body, also allowing your heart to do its job more effectively. A port is similar, and it’s used when the vein can’t be. For example, some people have veins that make it very difficult to start an IV or conduct a blood draw. Instead, a port is placed under the skin and carries medicine into the bloodstream through one of the central veins that leads to the heart.
There are many different uses for ports. For instance, patients receiving chemotherapy might need a port so that they can be more easily and comfortably administered these lifesaving drugs for several days. Other times, chemotherapy needs to be delivered in a larger vein than the ones the patient has in their arms. The port makes this possible. Ports can also be used for drawing blood (assuming it’s happening frequently enough to make a typical blood draw less practical).
There’s a specific type of port we use during imaging studies (like CT scans) called a “power-injectable” port. It functions the same way but can tolerate higher injection pressures. That’s why it’s used for something like IV contrast dye for a CT scan.
Are Ports Safe?
It’s understandable to feel concerned about a port being placed on your body and potentially staying put. However, ports are made from materials that are safe for long-term use in the body — years, even. Ports are typically less painful than IVs and can keep the patient more comfortable, especially if they need treatments regularly or over a longer period of time. Plus, there’s a reduced risk of infection.
How Does Port Placement Work?
SDMI places ports in the chest of the patient. On the chest, they’re replaced roughly an inch below the collarbone on the right side. The port itself is quite small — roughly the size of a quarter, although it can come in different shapes. While the patient might experience some soreness, it usually subsides within 24 to 48 hours. If needed, over-the-counter medications can make the individual more comfortable.
There are two main pieces involved. The port lies just below the skin’s surface. This is where medication flows to get into the bloodstream. In the middle is a raised part called the septum, also called an access point.
Then, there’s a catheter, also called a cath. The cath is a long, flexible tube made of plastic that goes from the port to the vein.
While ports are designed to be inconspicuous, the patient might see and feel a slight raise in their skin where the port rests underneath.
Once the port is in place, a nurse places a dressing over it to keep it covered. For the first few days, the patient must leave the dressing in place and avoid getting it wet.
How Do You Maintain a Port?
While a port can safely stay put in the body for years, it still needs to be maintained to prevent infection and ensure efficacy. A nurse will flush the port every four weeks to avoid any blockages. If it does become blocked, it might need to be replaced. The provider will also flush the catheter with heparin — a medicine that prevents clots from forming.
Additionally, a port needs to be flushed before the needle is removed after the patient has received treatment or infusion. Once the port is no longer needed, it’s removed the same way that it’s put in.
Taking care of a port also means avoiding certain movements and activities while the incision is still healing, such as:
Exercises that involve forceful reaching or stretching.
Lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.
Once the incision is healed, the individual can carry on with their normal daily routine. If the port isn’t being used, they don’t need to cover it with a bandage.
Port Placement with SDMI
SDMI is at the forefront of medical imaging technology. For our chest ports, we use the Bard PowerPort brand. Patient care and education are some of our priorities, so at your port placement, you’ll receive a packet of information about your port, your ID card (always carry this on you!), a bracelet, and a key ring card. If you have any questions about how your port works or how you should care for it, speak with your doctor or nurse.
If you’re ready to schedule the insertion or removal of your port, you’ll work with a special team within SDMI. Please call (702) 732-6020 to connect with a professional in our Interventional Radiology department.