Having an IPC

Indwelling pleural catheter (IPC)

An indwelling pleural catheter (IPC) is a tube that we put into your chest to remove fluid from around your lungs. One end of the tube stays inside the chest and the other passes out through your skin. 

You have an injection of local anaesthetic into the skin before the procedure. This makes the area numb. You should not feel any pain while we put the IPC into your chest.

If you have an IPC, you can drain fluid from the pleural space yourself. You do not have to come back into hospital. This is a permanent solution to the problem of fluid in the pleural space. However, we can remove an IPC if you no longer need it.

Having an IPC

We ask you to remove your clothing on your top half and put on a hospital gown. You lie on your side, in a comfortable position. We clean your skin with an antiseptic to lower the risk of an infection.

You have an ultrasound scan to find the best place to put the IPC.

You have an injection to numb the area of your chest where we put in the IPC (a local anaesthetic). This might sting slightly for a short time.

When the area is numb, we make 2 small cuts in the skin and gently open a path for the IPC. This should not be painful, but you feel some pressure or tugging.

The first cut is for the IPC to pass through the skin. The second cut is for the IPC to pass into the pleural space. We then gently move the IPC into your chest.

You have 2 stitches where we put in the tube. Your nurse can remove the stitches after 7 to 10 days.

There is a soft cuff around the IPC, which is positioned under the skin. The skin heals and attaches to the cuff. This makes the IPC more secure and keeps it in position.

After having an IPC

At the end of the procedure, your chest might feel bruised or sore for 1 week. You can control this with painkillers, such as paracetamol.  

When you leave hospital, we give you information about aftercare. 

Please tell the pleural nurse specialist if you do not have many IPC bottles or dressings left.

Contact your pleural nurse specialist if:

  • anything happens to your IPC
  • you have pain or redness around the area of your IPC
  • you have a high temperature (fever)

If you notice these signs out of hours or at the weekend, go to your nearest emergency department (A&E).

Looking after your IPC

Draining the fluid

When we put in your IPC, we remove most of the fluid from your chest at the same time. 

How quickly the fluid drains is different for each person. Some people need to drain the fluid each day. Other people need to do this one time each week or less. You can drain fluid as often as needed, but your doctor or nurse guides you.

The nurses teaches you, or a family member or friend, how to drain the fluid. This can then be done in your own home.

There are different ways to drain the fluid using your IPC. We give you instructions, which explain the procedure step by step.

The district nurse team can also drain the fluid for you at home. Speak to your medical team about arranging this help at home.

Washing and showering

After putting an IPC into your chest, we put a dressing on the tube (catheter). You need to keep this dressing dry until the stitches are removed 7 to 10 days later. If the area is then clean and dry, you can have a bath or shower as normal. 

Removing an IPC

An IPC can stay in position permanently. Sometimes, however, the fluid draining from your chest dries up and you no longer need the IPC. We can then remove the IPC at the hospital. You do not have to stay in hospital overnight for this procedure.

Ask your medical team if you would like more information about removing an IPC.

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)

Is this health information page useful?