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Discharge Instructions: Caring for Your T-Tube

Close up of the T-tube connected to the bile duct.

Outline of body showing T-tube in bile duct connected to bag on outside of abdomen.

You have been discharged with a T-tube, which is shaped like the letter T. It is put in place after bile duct surgery to drain bile while the duct is healing. The tube drains into a bag that is attached to your body. A bandage is present at the site where the tube is placed. This protects the open area from infection. The T-tube will be left in place for up to several weeks. Before your tube can be removed, an X-ray will be done to make sure that your duct has healed and that there are no stones present. Here's what you can do at home to aid your recovery.

General guidelines

Tips to follow include the following:

  • Take care not to lie on the same side as the tube during sleep because this could compress it. 

  • Secure the tube and bag inside your clothing. Your caregivers can give you suggestions on how to do this. This will prevent the tube from being pulled out.

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

Emptying the bag

Most T-tubes are not connected to a drainage bag when you are discharged and are therefore closed. When tubes are closed, it is recommended you flush them once or twice daily with 10 mL sterile saline, using sterile techniques (cleaning the cap and the end of the tube with alcohol before injecting saline). If you have been discharged with your T-tube connected to a drainage bag, follow these instructions to empty the bag at least twice a day. Empty it more often if needed:

  • Wash your hands.

  • Remove the closure at the bottom of the bag.

  • Drain the fluid into a measuring cup.

  • Record the amount of fluid each time you empty the bag. You will share this information with your healthcare provider on your next visit.

  • Replace the closure on the bottom of the bag.

  • Wash your hands again. 

Changing the dressing

Change the dressing around the tube every day or whenever it becomes wet or soiled:

  • Wash your hands.

  • Remove the old bandage.

  • Wash your hands again.

  • Wet a cotton swab with normal saline solution (salt and water) or hydrogen peroxide and clean around the incision and tube site. But you can also clean the skin around the T-tube with soapy water. Pat dry with clean gauze. 

  • 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.


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

When to call your healthcare provider

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

  • Pain that becomes worse, especially in the right upper portion of your belly

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fever above 100.4°F (38°C) or chills

  • Swelling or fluid leaking around the tube

  • New redness or warmth around the incision or new fluid draining from the incision

  • An incision that does not heal after 3 to 5 days

  • Stitches that become infected (red or tender) or loose

  • A foul smell from the incision site

  • Drainage that changes color from light pink to dark red

  • The tube stops draining 

  • A tube that falls out

  • Jaundice (a yellowing of your skin or eyes) 

Online Medical Reviewer: Lehrer, Jenifer, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.