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Nephrostomy Tube Care

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is a nephrostomy tube?

A nephrostomy tube is a catheter (thin plastic tube) that is inserted through your skin and into your kidney. The nephrostomy tube drains urine from your kidney into a collecting bag outside your body. You may need one tube for each kidney.

Why might I need a nephrostomy tube?

You may need a nephrostomy tube when something is blocking the normal flow of urine. Urine from your kidneys passes through tubes called ureters. Your ureters are connected to your bladder. If your ureters get blocked by stones or blood clots, urine stays in your kidneys and will cause problems. The nephrostomy tube is put in to drain your urine directly from your kidneys. You may need this tube if you have a condition such as pelvic tumors, damage to your urinary system, or prostate cancer.

How do I clean the skin around the nephrostomy tube and change the bandage?

Since the nephrostomy tube comes out of your back, you will not be able to care for it by yourself. Ask someone to follow the general directions listed below to care for your nephrostomy tube. Ask your healthcare provider how your skin should be cleaned and which skin barriers and attachment devices to use.

  • Gather the items you will need.
    • Disposable (single use) under-pad, and a clean washcloth
    • Plain soap, warm water, and new medical gloves
    • Sterile gauze bandages
    • Clear adhesive dressing or medical tape
    • Skin barrier
    • Tube attachment device
    • Protective skin film
    • Hydrogen peroxide and saline solution (if ordered by a healthcare provider)
    • Medicine for your skin (if ordered by a healthcare provider)
    • Trash bag
  • Remove the old bandage and check the tube entry site.
    • Have the patient lie on his side with the nephrostomy tube entry site facing up. Place the under-pad where it will catch drainage as you are working with the nephrostomy tube.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water. Put on new medical gloves.
    • Gently remove the old bandage and skin barrier. Do this by holding the skin beside the tube with one hand. With the other hand, gently remove sticky tape and the skin barrier by pulling in the same direction as hair growth. Do not touch the side of the bandage that is placed over or around the tube. Throw the bandage and skin barrier away in a trash bag.
    • Look for signs of infection, such as skin redness and swelling. Report any skin changes to healthcare providers.
    • There may be a black mark on the tube to mark the place where the tube enters the skin. Check to see that the black mark is next to the skin. If it is further down the tube, the tube has moved. A healthcare provider needs to put it back in.
  • Clean the catheter site.
    • Hold the tube in place to keep it from being pulled out while you are cleaning around it.
    • You will need to clean the area twice. For the first cleaning, wet a new gauze bandage with soap and water. You may be directed to use hydrogen peroxide instead. Begin at the entry site of the tube. Wipe the skin in circles, moving away from the entry site. Remove blood and any other material with the gauze. Do this as often as needed. Use a new gauze bandage each time you clean the area, moving away from the entry site.
    • For the second cleaning, wet a new gauze bandage with water. You may be directed to use saline solution instead. Begin at the entry site of the tube. Wipe the skin in circles, moving away from the entry site. Use a new gauze bandage each time you clean the area, moving away from the entry site.
    • Gently pat the skin with a clean washcloth to dry it. Put medicine on the skin if directed by a healthcare provider.
  • Apply the skin barrier and bandages.
    • Cut an opening in the center of the skin barrier large enough to fit around the tube. Cut a slit from the outside edge of the skin barrier to the center opening so that you can fit it around the nephrostomy tube. Place the skin barrier around the nephrostomy tube. Make sure the skin barrier is not touching stitches that may be holding the tube in place. Put a protective skin film over the skin barrier if directed by a healthcare provider.
    • Roll up a bandage to make it thick, and wrap it around the place where the tube enters the skin. Place it to support the tube, and stop it from kinking or bending. Tape the bandage in place, and apply more bandages if directed by a healthcare provider.
    • An attachment device may be placed over the bandages to help keep the nephrostomy tube in place.
    • Bring the tubing forward to the front, and tape it to the skin. Do not stretch the tube tight, because the nephrostomy tube may come out.

How often do I need to change the bandage, skin barrier, and tube attachment device?

Change the bandage around the tube, the bolsters, skin barriers, and tube attachments at least every 7 days. If your bandages, barriers, or devices get dirty or wet, change them right away, and as often as needed. If your nephrostomy tube is to be used for a long period of time, the tube needs to be changed every 2 to 3 months. Healthcare providers will tell you when you need to make an appointment to have your tube changed.

How do I care for the urine drainage bag?

You may use a reusable or a single-use (disposable) urine bag. If you are using a disposable urine bag, use it only once, and then throw it away. If you have a reusable urine drainage bag, ask healthcare providers when and how to clean it. The following are general directions for cleaning a reusable urine drainage bag:

  • Ask healthcare providers if you need to measure and write down how much urine is in the bag before you empty it. Drain urine out of the drainage bag when it is ½ to ⅔ full. Open the spout at the bottom of the bag to empty the urine into the toilet.
  • You may need to detach the drainage bag from the nephrostomy tube to clean it. If so, attach a new drainage bag tightly to the nephrostomy tube.
  • You may need to use a solution to clean the urine drainage bag. Ask healthcare providers what kind of cleaning solution to use. Use a plastic syringe (without a needle) to gently force the cleaning solution into the drainage bag as you clean it.
  • Ask healthcare providers if you should leave the cleaning solution in the bag for a time before you drain it out. When it is time to drain the bag, drain the cleaning solution out through the spout at the bottom.
  • Ask healthcare providers what to use to rinse the urine drainage bag. After you rinse the bag, empty it and hang it up to air dry before you use it again. Throw reusable bags away after you use them for 1 week.

What can I do to prevent problems with my nephrostomy tube?

  • Change bandages, skin barriers, and attachment devices as directed. This helps to prevent infection. Throw away or clean your drainage bag as directed by your healthcare provider.
  • Wipe the connecting ends of the drainage bag with alcohol or iodine before you reconnect the bag to the tube. This helps prevent infection.
  • Keep the tube taped to your skin and connected to a drainage bag placed below the level of your kidneys. This helps prevent urine from backing up into your kidneys. You may wear a small drainage bag strapped to your leg to let you move around more easily.
  • Use a larger drainage bag at night and when you take naps during the day. This will help prevent urine from leaking out from the place where the tube enters your skin.
  • Check the catheter to be sure it is in place after you change your clothes or do other activities. Do not wear tight clothing over the tube. Place the tubing over your thigh rather than under it when you are sitting down. Be sure that nothing is pulling on the nephrostomy tube when you move around.
  • Change positions if you see little or no urine in your drainage bag. Check to see if the urine tube is twisted or bent. Be sure that you are not sitting or lying on the tube. If there are no kinks and there is little or no urine in the drainage bag, tell your healthcare provider.
  • Flush out the tube as directed. Do this if you think the tube is blocked.

What else should I know?

  • Drink 2 to 3 liters of liquid each day unless you were told to limit liquids because of another condition. This amount is equal to about 8 to 12 (eight-ounce) cups of liquid. There should be 30 to 60 milliliters of urine draining into the bag each hour. A large amount of urine that drains over a shorter period of time should be reported. For example, 2,000 milliliters (2 liters) of urine draining out over 8 hours could be a sign of problems.
  • Keep the site covered when you shower. Tape a piece of clear adhesive plastic over the dressing to keep it dry while you shower. Do not take tub baths.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • The skin around the nephrostomy tube is red, swollen, itches, or has a rash.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have lower back or hip pain.
  • There are changes in how your urine looks or smells.
  • A large amount of urine is draining into the drainage bag over a short period of time.
  • You have little or no urine draining from the nephrostomy tube.
  • You have nausea and are vomiting.
  • The black mark on your tube has moved or is longer than when it was put in.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • The nephrostomy tube comes out completely.
  • There is blood, pus, or a bad smell coming from the place where the tube enters your skin.
  • Urine is leaking around the tube 10 days after the tube was placed.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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