How to care for JP drains after surgery

How to care for JP drains after surgery

Recovering from surgery means learning a lot of new skills: mastering how to get comfortable sleeping in certain positions again, figuring out how to get dressed and undressed with limited mobility, and navigating the process of monitoring and caring for your surgical drains.

After having a medical procedure, your surgeon will put drains in place that will help remove the fluid that collects under the incision site. These drains are also called a Jackson-Pratt drainage system," or "JP drains." They work by running a plastic tube from the incision site to a plastic bulb that can be flattened. When flattened, the bulb creates a constant gentle suction that pulls fluid from the incision site. 

Keeping track of the fluid drainage amounts and keeping your drains clean requires a few steps. Let's walk through them: 

 Step 1: Milk the tube 

When it's time to empty your drains, there will be some fluid that resides in the tubes that hasn't made its way down to the bulb yet. You'll want to move this fluid into the bulb before emptying it and measuring the fluid capture. To do this: 

  1. Wash your hands throughly with antibacterial soap
  2. Pinch the top of the tube near the point of insertion with the pointer finger and thumb of one hand. This hand will hold the tube in place so you don't tug on the insertion point as you remove the fluid
  3. With the opposite hand, pinch directly beneath the first hand, using your pointer finger and thumb, and slide your fingers down the tube towards the bulb. This should push any remaining fluid out of the tube and into the bulb
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until your drain tube is as empty as possible 

 Step 2: Emptying the JP drain and measuring 

Now that you've removed all of the fluid from your drain tubes, it's time to empty your JP drain bulb. To empty your fluid bulb:

  1. Grab the fluid measuring cup provided to you by your medical staff and keep it nearby  
  2. Unplug the stopper on the top of your drainage bulb 
  3. Turn the bulb upside down over the measuring cup and squeeze the fluid into the cup 
  4. When the bulb is completely empty, squeeze the bulb flat and insert the stopper plug back into the bulb. This will restart the gentle suction needed to continue removing fluid

Step 3: Recording fluid levels  

Once your drains are empty, you'll need to record the amount of fluid removed so your doctor can determine if it's safe to remove the drains. To accurately record your fluid levels: 

  1. Grab the JP drain record sheet given to you by your medical staff
  2. Hold the measuring cup your fluid has been emptied into at eye level. Record the number shown at the level the fluid lines up with
  3. Also note the color of the fluid. It's likely that the drainage fluid will appear darker and more red in color immediately following your procedure, and will lighten in color as more time goes on
  4. Once you have accurately recorded your fluid levels, flush the fluid down the toilet and wash the measuring cup thoroughly with warm water 
  5. Wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning drains 

Helpful JP drain tips 

The few weeks that you'll be dealing with JP drains are arguably some of the most frustrating. With that said, there are a number of steps you can take to help make managing your JP drains a lot easier:

  • Set timers on your phone to remind you to check and empty your drains regularly throughout the day 
  • Invest in recovery garments that have surgical drain holders to prevent them from pulling at the insertion sites while you're home
  • Find a post surgical drain belt to hold drains in place while showering, or under clothes that don't have surgical drain holders while you're out and about

Dealing with JP drains after a procedure may be a hassle, but remember that they're a temporary step in your recovery! Handling them with care and taking your fluid measurements seriously will help your doctor determine the right time to remove them so you can keep moving towards a full recovery. 

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