A portacath is a combination of a portal and a catheter. It is a small piece of medical equipment that can make receiving frequent doses of intravenous (IV) therapy over a long period easier for healthcare professionals and more comfortable for patients.

Some people refer to portacaths as “ports.”

In this article, we provide more information on portacaths and why healthcare professionals use them. We also explain what happens during a portacath insertion procedure and how to care for one afterward.

Port-a-cath is a port that is placed under the skin which gives access to veins for blood draws or long term intravenous medications such as chemotherapy. Share on Pinterest
Illustration by Diego Sabogal

Healthcare professionals use portacaths to give regular treatment to patients.

A portacath sits under the skin on the chest. The entrance of a portacath, or its port, lets medication through and then seals itself shut. It is made of silicone.

The plastic catheter part is slender, allowing healthcare staff to thread it into large veins, such as the superior vena cava. The catheter makes it possible for people to receive treatment quickly.

To access the portacath, healthcare staff insert a narrow needle into the skin at the site of the port.

Portacaths are almost unnoticeable. They typically appear as a small bump under the skin of the chest.

Portacaths are generally not painful. In fact, people often prefer them because they cause less discomfort than frequent needle punctures.

During the procedure, healthcare professionals sometimes fit portacaths using a general anesthetic to make it painless.

The insertion point, or the place where the portacath is in the body, can be sore for a few days afterward. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as paracetamol or acetaminophen, can help people manage this pain.

Ports can be useful when people need frequent IV treatments over a long period, such as for chemotherapy.

Repeated IV treatment involves a lot of needles, which many people find uncomfortable. It can also be challenging for healthcare staff, who sometimes have to spend time searching for veins.

Inserting a portacath removes these issues, as it establishes a direct pathway into the person’s veins. Healthcare professionals can also use a portacath to draw blood for lab tests.

Research has shown that portacaths are a safe option for children with chronic diseases.

A portacath be very beneficial for the following reasons:

  • Alternative to needles: Portacaths bypass the pain and potential risks of using needle sticks for every treatment or blood draw.
  • Lower infection risk: Portacaths carry a lower risk of infection than other IV methods.
  • Easy care: People generally find that they are simple to care for at home.
  • Long duration: Portacaths stay usable for a long time.
  • Hidden appearance: Portacaths are not noticeable, as they sit under the skin.

The following information can help someone compare different types of IV lines:

NameLengthCommon locationDuration
Peripheral IV line (PIV)ShortForearmUp to 4 days
Peripherally inserted central-line catheter (PICC)LongUpper armWeeks or months
Central venous catheter (CVC)LongChest or neckWeeks or months
PortacathShortUnder the skin on the chestYears


Peripheral IV lines may be difficult to use in people with small or weak veins. In these cases, portacaths offer a solution.

PICCs and CVCs need changing every week, and doctors recommend flushing them daily. Portacaths require less maintenance.


Portacaths sometimes require a person to undergo surgery under general anesthesia. People wishing to avoid general anesthesia could choose a PICC line, which only needs local anesthesia.

Portacaths are better for people undergoing long-term treatment. For treatment that lasts between a few days and a few weeks, doctors may recommend a PICC line.

The portal part of a portacath can typically last for about 2,000 punctures, which may be sufficient to cover an individual’s entire course of treatment.

A portacath can last between 2 and 6 years.

The different types of portacaths include:

  • Single lumen: The most common type of port, this helps people getting only one form of IV therapy at a time.
  • Double lumen: This type is helpful for people who are getting two forms of IV therapy at the same time or need to receive infusions or nutrition during treatment.
  • Power port: This type is strong enough to work with high pressure injections, such as those for a CT scan with contrast dye.

Inserting a portacath is a minor procedure that takes about 1 hour.

Surgeons make one or two cuts into the skin of the chest and thread the catheter through the cuts. Next, they attach the port to the catheter.

Healthcare staff can then check the placement of the portacath using an X-ray.

A person may find that the area is sore for 4–7 days following the procedure.

People with a portacath do not need to dress or change them routinely.

Most people can maintain a full and active life with a portacath. For example, they can go swimming with a portacath.

Flushing is a term that describes a maintenance procedure for making sure that a portacath remains free of clots or blockages. It also helps prevent complications.

Once inserted, a person can flush the portacath, which involves rinsing it in a saline solution and blood thinners.

Recommendations for the frequency of flushing vary. A 2014 study involving 293 cancer patients showed that flushing every 90 days was safe.

A portacath can make the process of receiving IV treatment less uncomfortable. However, it cannot make the process of getting to and from those treatments more comfortable, and that is where a portacath pillow, or port pillow, can be beneficial.

Seat belts can hit and irritate a portacath’s insertion point. A portacath pillow attaches to a seat belt and protects that area of the body.

Portacath pillows are often handmade. People can use these instructions to make one.

Doctors typically remove portacaths after people have finished their full course of IV treatments.

The removal of a portacath is also a short, outpatient procedure.

A surgeon may use a local anesthetic to numb the skin before making a cut near the site of the portacath. They will then pull the portacath out.

Portacaths can be very beneficial, and the risks are not common.

However, they are not risk-free. The potential hazards of portacaths include:

Local infections

The skin around the insertion site could become infected and need antibiotics.


If a clot develops in or around a portacath, doctors use blood thinners to remove it.

Portacaths are small mechanical devices that make IV treatment less painful for those receiving it and easier for healthcare professionals to manage.

Instead of searching for a vein and using a needle stick every time an individual receives IV medication, healthcare professionals give treatment via the portacath. They can also use portacaths to draw blood.

Portacaths can stay in the body for 2–6 years, and they offer many benefits compared with some other IV line alternatives. They carry very few risks and can make a person’s treatment less painful.