tunneled vs non tunneled central venous catheter

Tunneled vs Non-Tunneled Catheter: Key Differences Explained

Central venous catheters are hugely important pieces of medical equipment that can be used in the treatment of various conditions, including chronic and critical illnesses. These kinds of catheters are placed into large, major veins throughout the body, providing reliable vascular access, and they can be used for various purposes, like administering medication or fluids, taking blood tests, or measuring blood pressure.

There are various kinds of venous catheters that can be used, with varying sizes and styles, and we can divide them into two main groups: tunneled catheters and non-tunneled catheters. But what is the difference between the two? When should you use one over the other and how do tunneled vs non-tunneled catheters compare? Read on to find out all about tunneled and non-tunneled catheters.

What Is a Tunneled Catheter?

A tunneled catheter is a central venous catheter which is placed subcutaneously, or under the skin. Before inserting a tunneled catheter, a doctor will typically make an incision at an insertion site, which is often in the chest, and then use a tunneling device to form a tunnel under the skin that the catheter passes through. This kind of catheter has both an entry site and an exit site.

In terms of their design and structure, tunneled catheters consist of a piece of long, thin tubing. They may have one or more lumens, or channels, via which fluids like blood and medications can flow. They also usually have a cuff, which is a small antimicrobial attachment near the entry site that helps to hold the catheter in position and reduces the risk of infection.

Tunneled catheters are so-called due to the aforementioned “tunnel” that is formed to allow them to pass under the skin and into the venous system. They’re typically designed for long-term use of at least a couple of weeks, up to several months or longer, and may be used for a variety of purposes, including administration of antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs.

What Is a Non-Tunneled Catheter?

A non-tunneled catheter is another category of catheter that has some similarities to tunneled catheters in terms of its general function and design, but differs greatly in terms of its usage. Unlike a tunneled catheter, a non-tunneled catheter is inserted directly into the vein, without passing under the skin. These catheters only have entry sites, not exit sites.

In terms of their design, non-tunneled catheters also consist of a long, thin piece of tubing that allows medications and fluids to pass through. They may have one or more lumens for the transfusion of different fluids, and they may have certain attachments at the end, but are usually simpler in their design when compared to tunneled catheters.

Non-tunneled catheters are easier to insert overall and are designed for shorter-term use. They’re helpful for temporarily providing a patient with certain fluids via standard IV therapy, or for carrying out tests and checks of the patient’s blood pressure and cardiovascular system. 

Key Differences Between a Tunneled & Non-Tunneled Catheter

As we can see, when it comes to non-tunneled vs tunneled catheters, there are some key differences to be aware of. Here are the main ways in which these kinds of catheters differ:

  1. Insertion – One of the main ways in which tunneled and non-tunneled catheters differ is in terms of the manner in which they are inserted. Tunneled catheters have to be tunneled through a space under the skin and have both entry and exit sites, while non-tunneled catheters pass straight into the vein without any tunneling.
  2. Design – Tunneled and non-tunneled catheters can also vary slightly in terms of their design. One of the key elements that separates tunneled catheters is the presence of a cuff, near the entry site. The cuff helps to stop microbes from building up around the entry site, but it isn’t present in non-tunneled catheters.
  3. Usage – When it comes to tunneled vs non-tunneled catheters, it’s also important to note that these items can be used in very different ways. A non-tunneled catheter will usually be chosen for standard IV therapy and short-term procedures, while tunneled catheters are used for treating long-term illnesses.
  4. Safety – Tunneled and non-tunneled catheters can also vary in terms of their safety levels and the kinds of risks that they pose for a patient. The presence of the cuff on the tunneled catheter can help to minimize the chances of infection, but the insertion procedure is more complex and can cause internal damages if not carried out correctly.
  5. Duration – Another big way in which tunneled and non-tunneled catheters can differ is in terms of how long they are used for. Non-tunneled catheters are only aimed for short-term or temporary use, while tunneled catheters are designed to be used for a minimum of two weeks and may even be left in place for months at a time.


What Is a Tunneled Catheter Used For? 

A tunneled catheter provides long-term, permanent vascular access and can have a range of uses for long-term patient treatment. These catheters may be used for things like administering antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs, for example, as well as in the treatment of various chronic conditions that require regular fluid and medication transfusions.

What Are Examples of Tunneled Catheters?

We can divide tunneled catheters into various sub-categories, including the likes of Hickman, Groshong, and Broviac tunneled catheters. Each of these varieties has a slightly different design and may be best-suited for different uses or situations.

What Is a Non-Tunneled Catheter Used For?

A non-tunneled catheter provides temporary venous access for more short-term treatments, when compared to tunneled alternatives. These catheters may be used for standard IV therapy, for example, or to draw large amounts of blood from a patient.

What Are Examples of a Non-Tunneled Catheter?

Most non-tunneled catheters are very similar in terms of their design, but can vary in terms of the number of lumens they have, with both single-lumen and multi-lumen catheters available.

Where Can I Purchase Both Types of Catheters?

You can order tunneled and non-tunneled catheters in wholesale quantities today at CIA Medical. We offer a huge range of high quality catheters in many different forms and sizes from leading brands in the healthcare industry.

About the Author: CIA Medical

Central Infusion Alliance, Inc. (CIA Medical) is an innovative and customer-oriented medical supply company serving a broad range of medical professionals and organizations.