Discharge Instructions: Caring for Your Jackson-Pratt Drainage Tube

Your doctor discharges you with a Jackson-Pratt drainage tube. Doctors commonly leave this drain within the abdominal cavity after surgery. It helps prevent swelling and reduces the risk for infection. The tube is held in place by a few stitches. It is covered with a bandage. Your doctor will remove the drain when he or she determines you no longer need it.

Home care

  • Don’t sleep on the same side as the tube.

  • Secure the tube and bag inside your clothing with a safety pin. This helps keep the tube from being pulled out.

  • Empty your drain at least twice a day. Empty it more often if the drain is full.

    • Lift the opening on the drain.

    • Drain the fluid into a measuring cup.

    • Record the amount of fluid each time you empty the drain. Share this information with your doctor on your next visit.

    • Squeeze the bulb with your hands until you hear air coming out of the bulb if your doctor has instructed you to do so (sometimes the bulb is used as a reservoir without suction). Check with your doctor about specific drain instructions.

    • Close the opening.

  • Change the dressing around the tube every day.

    • Wash your hands.

    • Remove the old bandage.

    • Wash your hands again.

    • Wet a cotton swab and clean the skin around the incision and tube site. Use normal saline solution (salt and water). Or, you can use warm, soapy water.

    • Put a new bandage on the incision and tube site. Make the bandage large enough to cover the whole incision area.

    • Tape the bandage in place.

  • Keep the bandage and tube site dry when you shower. Ask your healthcare provider about the best way to do this.

  • “Stripping” the tube helps keep blood clots from blocking the tube. Ask your nurse how often you should strip the tube. But stripping may not be needed, depending on where and why your doctor placed the tube. It may even be dangerous in some cases. 

    • Hold the tubing where it leaves the skin, with one hand. This keeps it from pulling on the skin.

    • Pinch the tubing with the thumb and first finger of your other hand.

    • Slowly and firmly pull your thumb and first finger down the tubing. You may find it helpful to hold an alcohol swab between your fingers and the tube to lubricate the tubing.

    • If the pulling hurts or feels like it’s coming out of the skin, stop. Begin again more gently.

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.


When to seek medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • New or increased pain around the tube

  • Redness, swelling, or warmth around the incision or tube

  • Drainage that is foul-smelling

  • Vomiting

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C)

  • Fluid leaking around the tube

  • Incision seems not to be healing

  • Stitches become loose

  • Tube falls out

  • Drainage that changes from light pink to dark red

  • Blood clots in the drainage bulb

  • A sudden increase or decrease in the amount of drainage (over 30 mL)


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