Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What are drains? Why are they used?

A suction drain is a thin, soft, silicone tube that is inserted into an area of the body where surgery has been performed - examples are following a breast augmentation, tummy tuck or breast reconstruction procedure.  

The drain tubing exits through the skin and its purpose is to remove wound fluid during healing.  It is attached to a small suction bulb, often in the shape of a grenade (known as a JP, or Jackson-Pratt bulb), that when compressed, applies very gentle suction to the drain tube, and slowly removes fluid from the area of surgery.  

Initially, the drain wound fluid appears thick and red, as there is minor bleeding with any surgical procedure.  With time (over days to a week), there are less red blood cells in the wound fluid and the fluid becomes more clear and less red.  The color changes from dark to light red, pink, orange and finally clear light yellow (known as serous fluid).  It is at this point that the drains are ready to be removed.  

You will be asked to record the fluid your body is producing on a drain log (see the link for a downloadable form).

Just as when you scrape your knee and it initially bleeds and then weeps fluid for a time, wounds inside the body also make wound fluid.  This is a normal part of healing.  However, wounds outside the body that are exposed to air eventually dry out and form a scab.  

Wounds that are inside the body, such as around a breast implant, or in the area of a tummy tuck, continue to create wound fluid until the body is healed.  Bacteria love to grow in wound fluid - this is why Plastic Surgeons usually use drains to remove this fluid as it forms - to decrease the risk of infection and capsular contracture (contraction of scar tissue around a breast implant). 

Drains are not painful, and do not hurt when they are removed in the office, usually 3-10 days after surgery.  They are held in place by a small drain stitch (suture) that is cut, and the drain is easily pulled out.  

After breast implant or reconstructive surgery, I usually recommend that my patients avoid showering while their drains are in place, also to decrease the risk of infection of their breast implants.  You may sponge-bathe, shower only the lower half of their body, and either wash their hair in the sink or go to the salon for a wash and blow-dry (and splurge on a mani-pedi while they're there!).

Remember, "drains are your friends!".  They are there to help you heal without complications and will be removed when they are ready.