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Discharge Instructions: Biliary Catheter

You are going home with a biliary catheter in place. This is a small, flexible rubber tube placed into the common bile duct. This passageway allows bile, a thick yellow or green fluid, to flow from the gallbladder and liver to the small intestine. The catheter can drain the bile either inside your body or into a bag outside your body. Your doctor discussed with you how long the biliary catheter will need to be in place. This sheet provides general guidelines to care for your catheter.

General guidelines

If you have an outside catheter:

  • Be sure to empty your catheter bag before it is completely full.

  • Don’t go swimming, take baths, or soak in a hot tub.

  • Shower as needed, but keep the tube and the area around it dry. Ask your healthcare provider about the best way to do this.

  • Change your dressing (split gauze sponges, gauze, and tape) every 3 days, or more often if it becomes wet, soiled, or loose.

Changing the dressing

Here are general guidelines for changing the dressing. 

Gather your supplies:

  • A clean drainage bag

  • Telfa (non-stick pads)

  • Tegaderm

  • Scissors

  • Split gauze sponges

  • 4-inch-by-4-inch gauze pads

  • Tape

  • Connecting tube and drainage bag, if needed

  • Plastic bag to dispose of supplies

Remove the old dressing

  • Wash your hands thoroughly using mild soap and warm water.

  • Remove the old dressing. Be careful not to pull on the drainage catheter. Keep the plastic ring against the skin.

  • Check the skin around the catheter. Look for any unusual redness, tenderness, or drainage.

  • Wash your hands again thoroughly. Use soap and warm water.

Apply the dressing

  • Cut a round piece of Telfa, slightly larger than the plastic ring. Cut a slit in the Telfa so that it will fit around the catheter. Place the Telfa under the blue disk.

  • Fold a new Tegaderm in half and cut a hole in the center about the size of the nipple on the plastic ring. Put the catheter through this hole, and apply the Tegaderm to the skin. If the catheter is attached to a drainage bag, you must first disconnect the bag and then slip the catheter through the Tegaderm.

  • Place two split gauze sponges around the catheter.

  • Fold a 4-inch-by-4-inch gauze pad on each side of the catheter. You should be able to curl the catheter once without kinking it. The catheter should rest on the gauze and not on the skin.

  • Cover the catheter with a 4-inch-by-4-inch gauze pad. Use tape to secure the dressing.

  • Put a piece of tape below the dressing to hold the catheter. This will also act as a safety device.

  • Clean the external drainage bag by rinsing it out with soap and water. Allow it to air-dry thoroughly. You should have two drainage bags on hand; one should be clean and ready for use at all times.


  • Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments. Your doctor will need to check your tube once a month and change it every 8 weeks.


When to call your doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Plastic ring that comes away from the skin

  • Catheter that becomes kinked and can’t be straightened

  • Catheter that stops draining into the bag

  • Catheter falls out

  • Skin rash

  • Blood or pus leaking around the catheter site

  • Sudden pain

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills


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