Hemodialysis Catheter

A hemodialysis catheter is a large intravenous line (IV) that is put into a large vein that drains back to the heart, either at the base of the neck or the groin. The other end of the catheter is tunneled underneath the skin and exits the skin from the chest or leg. The catheter is split down the center into two channels (ports). During dialysis, the end of the catheter is hooked to the dialysis machine. Through one port, blood is drawn out of the body into the dialysis machine; through the other port, the cleansed blood is returned to the body.

Placing a hemodialysis catheter is a minor surgical procedure and can usually be accomplished in about 30 minutes under light anesthetic. We typically use ultrasound as well as fluoroscopy (continuous X-ray) to help guide placement of the catheter. Once placed, the catheter is ready for immediate use. It is the only way to receive dialysis if you need it urgently.

Catheters must be maintained carefully. The exit site must be cleaned to avoid infection, and the ports are flushed with heparin after each dialysis session to prevent clotting. The catheter must be kept dry, so showers and swimming are not permitted. Most catheters are considered temporary because they are associated with more complications than other forms of dialysis access. Catheters can be removed in the office under a local anesthetic. Removing a catheter takes about 15 to 20 minutes.