What Is a Biliary Catheter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 16 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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A biliary catheter provides drainage from the common bile duct of the liver. It can empty into an external collection bag or the bowel, depending on why the patient needs the device. The length of time a patient needs to wear a biliary catheter can vary, and while using it, it is necessary to attend regular checkups to monitor its placement and function. These ensure that the device is still working properly and provide an opportunity to spot complications early so they can be treated in a timely fashion.

Patients may need a biliary catheter for a number of reasons, including holes in the duct that are causing leaks, surgical preparation, or a blockage somewhere along the length of the duct. For the insertion procedure, patients are sedated and given pain management, but remain awake. A doctor uses image guidance to locate the liver, insert the device, and position it appropriately. After the procedure, patients spend some time in recovery being monitored before being discharged.

When the device is worn externally, patients need to take some special precautions. They have to periodically change the drainage bag in addition to flushing the biliary catheter to prevent blockages, using sterile saline. They also need to be careful about keeping the site clean and dry, which requires avoiding hot tubs, baths, and other wet environments. Regular bag changes should be performed before the bag is completely full to avoid accidents.


In the case of long-term biliary catheter placement, it may be necessary to replace the tube every two to three months. Tube replacement is less invasive than the original placement procedure. A doctor can determine when a replacement is necessary and perform it as an outpatient procedure. It is important to communicate clearly during checkups to make sure medical providers are aware of any problems with the biliary catheter, as these may determine if the device should be replaced or removed.

Potential complications of a biliary catheter can include blockage and infection. If the device gets blocked, the patient can develop an internal infection that may cause fever and chills. External catheters can cause surface skin infections that cause the skin to turn red, raw, and irritated. Patients can also experience problems like catheter shift, or the device may fall out in some cases. Those noticing abdominal tenderness, fever, a change in catheter position, or discomfort should report these, as they could be indicators that something is wrong.



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