Indwelling pleural catheter (IPC)

An indwelling pleural catheter (IPC) is a small, soft and flexible tube. We put this tube into your chest to remove fluid from around your lungs.

The IPC sits in the space between your lung and your chest wall (the pleural cavity or pleural space). One end of the tube stays inside the chest and the other passes out through your skin.

An IPC drains the fluid from around your lungs and helps with breathlessness. There is a one-way valve on the end of the tube. This stops fluid leaking out and air going in. 

If you have an IPC, you can drain fluid from your pleural space yourself. You do not have to come into hospital.

Read more about having an IPC put in and using the IPC.

Pleural space or pleural cavity

The space between your lung and chest wall is called the pleural cavity or pleural space. It is made up of 2 thin layers (membranes). 1 layer lines the lung and the other lines the chest wall.

The 2 layers are close together. They usually have a small amount of fluid in the space between them (about 15 to 30ml).

For some people, a larger amount of fluid can collect in this space (pleural effusion). If you have pleural effusion, the lungs cannot work properly and you will be short of breath.

Choosing an IPC or chest drain

Draining away the fluid can help breathlessness for a short time, but the fluid often builds up again.

Some people can have a chest drain put into their chest. This stays in place for between a few hours to a few days while you are in the hospital. It's possible to have a chest drain put in more than once, but this needs repeated hospital visits.

If you have an IPC, you do not need to keep having a chest drain put in every time fluid collects in your chest. You can drain the fluid yourself or with help from a nurse.

Having an IPC is easy and painless. You can drain fluid repeatedly, without painful procedures and having to come to hospital.

In about half of people, an IPC can seal the space between your lung and chest wall and stop the fluid coming back. 

Risks of an IPC

Having an IPC put into your chest

This is a routine procedure. In most cases, having an IPC is safe. However, as with all medical procedures, there are some risks involved. All of these risks can be treated.

Sometimes, an IPC can get infected. This affects about 2 to 4 people in every 100 people who have an IPC. Your doctor cleans the area before the procedure to try and prevent this. They also teach you how to keep your catheter clean. Tell your doctor if you have a high temperature (fever) or notice any pain or redness around the IPC that is getting worse.

Very rarely, when we put the IPC into your chest, it might accidentally damage a blood vessel and cause bleeding. This only affects about 1 in every 500 people who have an IPC.

Having a long-term IPC

The main risk is infection in the chest. Good IPC care and hygiene can lower this risk. It is important to follow the instructions on how to look after your IPC.

Check the area regularly for signs of infection. They include redness, swelling, oozing pus or liquid, pain or a high temperature. If you have any of these signs, tell your district nurse, GP or pleural nurse specialist as soon as possible. They check your IPC and give you treatment with antibiotics if you need them.

Sometimes, cancer tissue can affect the area around an IPC. Tell your doctor if you get a lump or any pain around your catheter in the weeks after we put it into your chest.

Tell your nurse or GP if:

  • you have a high temperature (fever)
  • you notice any pain around the IPC that is getting worse
  • you notice any redness

We want to involve you in decisions about your care and treatment. If you decide to have an IPC, we ask you to sign a consent form. This says that you agree to have the treatment and understand what it involves.

If you would like more information about our consent process, please speak to a member of staff caring for you.

Resource number: 4250/VER3
Last reviewed: October 2021
Next review: October 2024

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about your IPC, contact the respiratory medicine department.

Phone: 020 7188 5821, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Out of hours or in emergency, please contact your GP or go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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