What is a pigtail drain?

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What is a pigtail drain?
Catheters help doctors monitor patient health. (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

A pigtail drain, also known as a pigtail catheter, is a flexible tube that connects to the genitalia or skin of patients to aid with the draining of waste fluids. It comes as a long , sterile tube with a locking tip and several holes to aid with the drainage process. Pigtail drains are manufactured by a range of medical equipment firms and come in many different shapes and sizes to suit the shape and needs of various patient types.

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Urine and Bile

The pigtail catheter is capable of draining away body fluids such as yellow bile, urine and waste fluids from the pancreas. Pigtails drains are usually fitted to the bodies of patients who are unable to pass urine independently or who have blocked bile ducts. Leaving urine or bile to build up inside the body can cause pain and lead to adverse health effects. The pigtail drain allows nurses and doctors to monitor the quality and level of urine output. This can help them adapt treatment regimens to improve patients' health.

Kidney Function and Injured Patients

The fitting of pigtail drains through the skin is usually performed by radiologists. Drains may be fitted through the skin in cases where the ureter is blocked or if there is fluid build-up in the kidney which needs to be drained. Pigtail catheters are also used for patients who have poor control over their bladder function or who are bedridden because of injury or severe illness.

Tracer Dyes

Pigtail drains don't only deal with the secretion of body fluids. They can also be used to introduce fluid, usually a dye, into the body to help monitor activity in a specific organ or body area. The tracer dye is fed through the pigtail drain and floods the human body. The presence of the dye allows the area of concern can be seen with much greater clarity on medical imaging devices. The tracer dye is harmless and will be excreted through the urine in a few days.

Health and Safety

Pigtail catheters can be beneficial both to patients and to nursing staff. However, as the catheter is entering directly into the human body, it needs to be installed with caution. The site of insertion is usually sterilised to ensure no bacteria outside the body attach to the catheter and infect the body. The pigtail catheters themselves are single use, meaning they are disposed off immediately after use. Patients are usually asked to give consent before a pigtail catheter is fitted. Despite the benefits, there are risks associated with catheters such as infection and internal hemorrhaging.

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