A vascular access procedure inserts a flexible, sterile plastic tube called a catheter into a blood vessel to allow blood to be drawn from or medication to be delivered to a patient's bloodstream over an extended period. They may be used for intravenous (IV) antibiotic treatment, chemotherapy, long-term IV feeding and blood transfusions. Vascular access spares patients the stress of repeated needle sticks and provides a painless way to draw blood or deliver medication.
Vascular access is also a hemodialysis patient's lifeline. A vascular access makes life-saving hemodialysis treatments possible. Hemodialysis is a treatment for kidney failure that uses a machine to send the patient's blood through a filter, called a dialyzer, outside the body. The access is a surgically created vein used to remove and return blood during hemodialysis. The blood goes through a needle, a few ounces at a time. The blood then travels through a tube that takes it to the dialyzer. Inside the dialyzer, the blood flows through thin fibers that filter out wastes and extra fluid. The machine returns the filtered blood to the body through a different tube. A vascular access lets large amounts of blood flow continuously during hemodialysis treatments to filter as much blood as possible per treatment. About a pint of blood flows through the machine every minute. A vascular access should be in place weeks or months before the first hemodialysis treatment.