Long term drains to treat fluid in the abdomen (ascites)

Some cancers cause fluid to build up in the tummy (abdomen). The medical name for this is ascites (pronounced ay-site-eez).

Your doctor might recommend a long term tube to drain the fluid. These tubes (catheters) stay in the abdomen for several months.

There are different types of long term tube. The most common type is a PleurX drain.

PleurX drain

A PleurX drain allows you to drain abdominal fluid whenever it builds up.

Putting the drain in

You usually have this as an outpatient at the hospital or you might need to stay there overnight.

Your doctor cleans your skin and injects a local anaesthetic to numb the area. They then make 2 small cuts in the skin of your abdomen and gently push the tube in. There is a cuff under the skin to keep the tube in place and prevent infections.

Your doctor stitches the tube to your skin. Then they put a dressing over the part of the tube that lies outside your body.

Diagram showing a PleurX drain with drainage bottle attached

Draining the fluid

When fluid builds up, you or a nurse take the cap off the end of the tube. You attach a drainage bottle. This bottle has a vacuum that helps drain the fluid. It usually takes between 5 and 15 minutes.

When the fluid stops draining you remove the bottle and put a cap over the end of the tube. You also put a clean dressing on.

Diagram showing a PleurX drain covered by a dressing when not draining

Possible problems

There are ways of dealing with problems that occur with a PleurX drain.

Pain and discomfort

Your nurse can give you painkillers if you need them. They can also help you change your position to make you comfortable.


You might get an infection in the cuts made to put in the tube, or in the abdomen. If you get an infection you have antibiotics. These might be as tablets or through a drip. If you get a severe infection, your doctor might take the tube out.

Tube blockage

The tube might stop draining. Changing your position or sitting upright can sometimes get rid of the blockage. If not, your doctor might need to replace the tube.

Other ways of draining fluid

Long term drains are one way of draining the fluid. Other ways of draining it include short term tubes, medicines, or having a shunt – an internal tube.

Last reviewed: 
26 Apr 2021
Next review due: 
26 Apr 2024
  • PleurX peritoneal catheter drainage system for vacuum assisted drainage of treatment-resistant recurrent malignant ascites

    National institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines MTG9 (2012) (updated 2018)

  • Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (Professional Edition) 10th edition

    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton

    Wiley Blackwell, 2020



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