Understanding Your Peritoneal Dialysis Catheter 

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician.

Understanding Your Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) Catheter

In order to perform peritoneal dialysis (PD), a PD catheter will need to be placed into your abdomen, chest or sternum area. Your surgeon will work with you to identify appropriate placement.  

A PD catheter is a flexible, plastic tube (about the length of a ruler and the width of a pencil) that allows dialysis fluid (called dialysate) to enter the abdominal cavity, pull toxins through the small blood vessels that are in the lining of the abdomen and organs, and then drain the used dialysate back out again. The internal portion of the PD catheter starts at the exit site and ends internally resting in the pelvic region.  This helps to ensure all of the fluid that is placed into the abdominal cavity is emptied when drained. This tiny hole, where the catheter comes out of the body, is called the exit site.

PD catheter surgery is considered a minor operation for most patients and complications are often rare. Catheter placement can be done under general anesthesia and usually takes less than one hour. Most people are able to go home the same day. Surgery is typically performed by a surgeon at a hospital, but there are some kidney doctors (nephrologists) and radiologists who are also trained to place PD catheters.

In general, it is recommended to have the catheter placed at least two weeks before beginning PD. There is also a buried PD catheter option that can be considered by your nephrologist and surgeon which allows early placement of a PD catheter prior to use.   In some cases, PD may start a few days after surgery. It’s important that you meet with your PD nurse to plan your surgery and follow-up appointment.

What to expect after your PD catheter is placed

After the catheter is placed, the primary goals are to keep the exit site clean and prevent the catheter from pulling on the exit site.

  1. You'll go home with the PD catheter taped to the outside of your abdomen and covered with a sterile pad or dressing. The dressing is left alone and should only be changed or removed by a trained PD nurse. It's important that the dressing is kept dry, which means no showers or baths for seven to ten days.
  2. During this seven- to ten-day period after surgery, there may be mild discomfort. Avoid heavy lifting and exercises such as sit-ups during this time. Most people can usually resume other activities after three to four days.
  3. You will return to the dialysis center seven to ten days after surgery to see the PD nurse, who will change the dressing, clean the exit site and assess the PD catheter function. Your nurse and health care team will also start your initial PD training so you can learn how to perform PD at home.

Caring for your PD catheter

Precautions should to be taken against infection because the catheter and the skin surrounding the catheter are potential passageways through which germs can enter the body. Learn more about how to care for your PD catheter here.

A PD catheter, when placed properly and taken care of, shouldn't interfere with most everyday activities and can often be used without problems for many years. Speak with your doctor and care team about any catheter placement surgery questions and to see if PD is right for you.

Find a DaVita PD program

Are you interested in finding a PD program near you? Call DaVita Guest Services at 1-800-244-0582 or find a center with a home dialysis program nearest you.

Learn more about PD