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after mastectomy - how long were your drains in?

amyK Member Posts: 7

Hi everyone,

I'm new here. I had a single mastectomy with axillary dissection 11/15 and have been struggling with the drains. I was expecting they might come out eight days after surgery (when I first saw the surgeon post-op) but she wants 10 mls or less and I was still getting 50-60. Now it is 26 days after and I'm all over the map with the drain that goes across my chest - 90 m last night, down to 25 a couple days ago, the other (armpit) was empty and has been close to empty most of the time for the last couple weeks. 

I'm wondering - how long were your drains in? How much fluid was draining by the time you had them out? Did you find there was anything you could do to help lower the amount of fluid? Were you allowed to shower? (I'm not) Exercise? (I was doing more but now I am not allowed to even walk the dog). Wear a tight ace-wrap at all times? (I am) I have read that some believe diet effects this. (protein, carbs, salt) What do you think? I am starting to feel like they will never come out and it's making me a little crazy.



  • hrf
    hrf Member Posts: 706
    edited December 2010

    Mine came out one at a time as the fluid levels decreased. I was allowed to shower even with the drains. One drain stayed too long (3 weeks) and I developed a little infection for which I had to take antibiotics.

  • riley702
    riley702 Member Posts: 575
    edited December 2010

    Mine were in about 2 weeks and output had to drop below 25 ml/day apiece. They both reached that at the same time, so I got them pulled at the same time. Maybe for you, they could pull the one with very little output? Even one out would be more comfortable for you, especially if it's in the armpit. I hated that one!

  • agada
    agada Member Posts: 26
    edited December 2010

    Both of my drains were at about 10 mls when they came out, about 4 weeks after they went in for bilateral mastectomies.  I was allowed to shower with the drains in and did not develop an infection. I had to shower trying to stay dry, in other words i was at one end of the shower, I could lean over and stick my head under the shower to wash my hair then used a washcloth to bathe.  I dont know why your doctor will not allow you to shower with the drains in.  I know I had to be careful with them.  I would safety pin them to a laniard that went around my neck so I would not drop them and pull the stiches I had to hold the drains in. 


  • nativemainer
    nativemainer Member Posts: 7,729
    edited December 2010

    My drain was in for 4 weeks after the mastectomy and I was not allowed to shower.  It was still draining 30 mL or more a day, but my BS doesn't leave them in more than 3 weeks.  I had to have fluid drained by needle after the drain came out. 

  • lago
    lago Member Posts: 11,653
    edited December 2010

    People are all over the place wit this. I was lucky and only had them in for 7 days but I know many including folks here that went 3-4 weeks. I was not allowed to shower with them. (concern was infection) I bought a stack of wash clothes to sponge bath. I went to the hair dresser to get my hair washed and styled after a week.

    I also think it depends on your size. Seems us smaller gals get them out earlier… not that I'm assuming your big but I am pretty tiny on top. Lots of bone & ribs showing.

  • D4Hope
    D4Hope Member Posts: 37
    edited December 2010
    I had six of them and they were in for about 14 days. Hated those buggers. Hang in there they will soon be a distant annoying memory.Smile
  • Laurie08
    Laurie08 Member Posts: 2,047
    edited December 2010

    mine were in for about a week and a half.  I couldn't shower either :(  I was told to not exercise at all and lay low, the less movement the less out put.  WHen mine were pulled I had to be below 25.  Good luck!

  • MaiTai
    MaiTai Member Posts: 65
    edited August 2013

    I had a double MX with immediate reconstruction.I had 2 drains, one in each armpit. It was harder than the surgery!

    It took about 10-14 days before the PS removed them and they were below 25. I was allowed to shower almost immediately after surgery. I just had to make sure the vacum of the drains was ok.

    I get your discomfort.

  • PinkiePie
    PinkiePie Member Posts: 1
    edited December 2010

    Those drains are such a pain but I followed my PS's advice and did not shower until they were out  I had a double mastectomy on Nov. 9 and the top two drains (one on each side) came out out after two weeks but the other two on the lower side of the breasts came out just short of a month post surgery.  My PS wanted them less than 30ml for 3 days before they pulled them.  I had to be on an oral antibiotic as long as they were in.  I did develop a small infection at the suture site that I treated with an antibiotic cream about 2 or 3 times a day and it healed fine.  Just be patient.  You will feel so much better when they are gone.  I hated to even drive or go anywhere with those tubes but that part passes!!

  • Annie62
    Annie62 Member Posts: 92
    edited December 2010

    I will be getting mine out tomorrow. So it will be 8 days. BMX - 2 drains. (no recon). No showering. I did shower the bottome half of me today with the flexible shower hose. Used cleansing cloths for post surgery on the top half and earlier this week. Doc wants less than 30 ml before removal. Hit that number late Fri/Sat so of course couldn't do anything over the weekend and today I called and no is available to help me so I have to wait until tomorrow. I know I'm overreacting but I'm disappointed. I was really looking forward to getting the drains out and taking a shower. It's my birthday and not a very fun one so was hoping for that little bit of satisfaction.

    Last time I had a lumpectomy and could shower with it in but couldn't face the shower. Had to turn my back to the water. I had axillary dissection as well and my drain was in at least a week. Maybe 10 days.

    Sorry you have had yours in so long. Hang in there!


  • kerri72
    kerri72 Member Posts: 6
    edited December 2010

    Hi Amy, I can relate to your frustration. I'm 25 days out from a bilateral mastectomy and will be finally getting my last drain out tomorrow. The output has been pretty erratic like yours - from 60 cc down to 35 then back up to 40 cc/day, where it stayed for a solid week. Then on Saturday it started drying up, and now I'm down to almost nothing. My surgeon told me to expect that it would just suddenly be done, and that's exactly what happened. He requires output to be less than 20 cc/day to remove. Can't you get the one drain out that's almost empty? Seems it's no longer necessary, and could be a risk for infection.

    My surgeon did tell me that the more active I am, the more it will drain, but I didn't find that to be true. I tried sitting around for entire days to reduce the drainage, and it didn't make any difference.

    I do know you're supposed to eat plenty of protein for healing after surgery, and supplementing with zinc might be a good idea too. I was told no showers. 

    I know it feels like the draining will never stop, but don't worry too much - it will.  

  • momof3sofar
    momof3sofar Member Posts: 12
    edited December 2010

    I completely feel your "pain".  I had BMX on Nov 10th and the last drain came out a little over 2 weeks later, then my DIEP flap died and I had to go in for removal surgery and ended up with 2 more just a week and a half after the last one was removed.  I am not putting out more than 10 from either one of them so I will have them taken out tomorrow (5 days) after surgery.  UGH, I had just gotten used to taking a shower and moving again when the new ones went in!


  • Sue4LSU
    Sue4LSU Member Posts: 3
    edited December 2010

    I had a single mastectomy-skin sparing, nipple sparing-last Monday.  Had one drain removed yesterday (a week later) and plan to have the other removed Friday.  My PS is only asking to get it down to 30cc.  Can't shower, but don't have ace bandage.

  • xtine
    xtine Member Posts: 15
    edited December 2010

    I had one drain which stayed in for 3 weeks. While the drain was in I was advised not to use my arm much if possible, though I could shower and didn't have tight bandages. Honestly, I didn't see much correlation between activity and drain output. The day output went down the most was a day when I took a long walk of several miles (physical non-arm activity was encouraged), so sitting on my ass did not help.

    When my drain came out I was still putting out at least 42 ml a day. My surgeon didn't seem worried to take it out. He said my scars were looking good and hopefully any excess fluid should be re-absorbed. I had absolutely no problems.. maybe a little swelling for the first day and since then (weeks now) I have been completely fine with no swelling. I started nearly normal movement right away and physical therapy, and within a week and a half was lifting my (32 lb) twins again. Life without a drain was so so much better.

    My general take-away was activity was good, arm activity might be bad, showers were not an issue, and hitting 30 ml (the original goal for me) was not necessary. I'm not a doctor and I don't know your situation, but I would be suspicious.

  • SandyAust
    SandyAust Member Posts: 82
    edited December 2010

    Good grief! I just stumbled onto this post and I am shocked.  My drain came out after three or four days.  I was still draining about 50ml at the time. I went back to breast surgeon a few days later for him to drain around the scar. with a needle and syringe.  He told me to come back in a week and by the time I did it was really painful from the build up of fluid pressure.  He said something along the lines of "There's not that much fluid and it shouldn't be painful".  I was concerned that he didn't want me to come back again for further draining.

    This was six years ago and I didn't think much of it until I saw this post.  Three or four days obviously isn't very long!  No wonder it hurt.  He actually was a very good doctor other than this.

    Take care ladies.


  • Rachel1966
    Rachel1966 Member Posts: 57
    edited December 2010

    I had a double mastectomy and had 2 drains. One drain came out on day 3 and the other day 5. I had less than 20cc in 24hrs and the surgeon's instructions were just that - less than 20cc output per 24hrs before removing the drains.

    I was able to shower with the drains as long as they were covered.  Not an easy task so I simply washed with a cloth and sink. I showered on day 5.

  • amyK
    amyK Member Posts: 7
    edited December 2010

    Thanks for all the replies, it's good to hear the range of stories. Here's my update:

    I saw the surgeon yesterday (29 days after surgery, still producing 40-50cc every 12 hours) and she said, before looking at me or looking at my fluid outputs, "the drains are coming out today no matter what." So she took them out. She wants me to continue to wear the acewrap around my chest and come back Friday (three days later). It's a day later now and my chest is so full of fluid it's like a waterbed, not painful but uncomfortable. I'm worried that the fluid will keep accumulating and it will hurt and become a danger to me somehow. Anybody been through this? What happened?

  • xtine
    xtine Member Posts: 15
    edited August 2013

    amyK - have you seen a physical therapist yet? Mine suggested some gentle stuff to help prevent/address any fluid build-up. The list was, to be done in order, after drains removed (it's best if you have someone demonstrate, so hopefully you can see a PT):

    - Diaphragmatic breathing, x10
    - Shoulder rolls, x10
    - Some light self massage, moving hand from from shoulder to collarbone, using the opposite hand (very little pressure) x5
    - Light self massage from armpit to collarbone x5
    - Light self massage from forearm to shoulder, x5
    - Repeat massage on opposite side

    then repeat once...

    Also, a nurse suggested that light aerobic exercise would help to metabolize the fluid.

    I didn't actually have any real problems, but I was told that if I had swelling it was OK if it didn't hurt. If it did hurt I was to call my doctor and he could remove the fluid with a syringe. It's called a "seroma" if you want to look it up...

    I'm glad you got the drains out though! Good luck!

  • CrunchyPoodleMama
    CrunchyPoodleMama Member Posts: 312
    edited December 2010

    Great thread... I've been wondering the same. I just had my surgery yesterday so it will be at least another week for me, but I was surprised to see a few minutes ago that my drain isn't as full now as it was after a night's sleep -- I've been walking a fair amount today (shopping with my parents while they're in town). 

    So, walking is okay, arm exercises are not, hm? That makes sense (and it also makes sense that my output was almost 20ml just between 3pm and 8pm yesterday, because I made the dumb move of lifting something that was a lot heavier than I thought). 

  • amyK
    amyK Member Posts: 7
    edited December 2010

    following up: I had fluid drained every few days, and each time it accumulated less. It's not over yet, however. Going back day after tomorrow...

  • mamanmidwife
    mamanmidwife Member Posts: 15
    edited December 2010

    i had skin paring unimx and TE placement - 2drains with surgical bra and no shower, drains came out 9 days later total less than 25ml/24hr. shower allowed and changed to sports bra, supposed to start PT, but have pretty much total range of motion (i will go for PT nonetheless)

  • DinahK
    DinahK Member Posts: 1
    edited January 2011

    I had prophylactic mastectomy/reconstruction 11/16 and went home with 2 drains.  The first one came out after a week, but I still have the other one.  Started draining about 110cc/day.  Seems to decrease by about 10cc each week, so now down to ~50cc/day.  I have been showering since I came home from the hospital with no problems.  I did get a blockage somewhere inside which lead to an infection, so now I'm on 2 antibiotics.  One night last week the drain came out about an inch and I tore stitches.  I have no sensation in that area anyway so I couldn't feel it pull (happened while asleep).  Doc stitched it again.  I don't have pain with this one (luckily), but it is hard to hide in clothes and just downright inconvenient as you all know.  Looks like I probably still have several weeks before its coming out  :-(  .

  • fluffqueen01
    fluffqueen01 Member Posts: 1,795
    edited March 2011

    I had bmx 11 days ago with te expanders. Everything has been going great. Had two drains removed last Tuesday. The other two are scheduled to come out next tuesday. PS leaves one on each side in 2 weeks as policy. I have had very little output on either of them until two days ago when I woke up in the morning with 40 cc's dark red fluid. Happened again today. Not much during the day.  Had ps check me out yesterday and he was unconcerned and said that happens sometimes. It is driving me crazy.

  • CarylC
    CarylC Member Posts: 30
    edited March 2011

    I had my bi-mx with no reconstruction on Thursday and drains were removed on Saturday before I left the hospital!  

  • Cmsruns1
    Cmsruns1 Member Posts: 1
    edited March 2011

    AmyL, what was your outcome? I am post-op day 33 after prophylactic biat mastectomy and still have one drain and am curious as to what happened with you. Thank you for your post

  • Kezzie62
    Kezzie62 Member Posts: 4
    edited March 2011

    I had my BMX no reconstruction but 22 nodes removed on March 18 and I had all 4 of my drains removed on Friday 25, so just 7 days for me.  For me they are the worst thing about all of it.  Now my chest just feels very sensitive when anything touches my  skin, a bit like having sunburn...

  • KrissyP
    KrissyP Member Posts: 1
    edited March 2011

    Lago, I have similar situation. I'm also a little smaller. I had Prophylactic mastectomy on the left and modified radical mastectomy on the right with immediate DIEP reconstruction. The drains on my abdomen were taken out about 4 or 5 days after surgery, I was still in the hospital, and it's output were still a bit high, but I was in so much pain coz they were pressing on some nerves. The doctors decided to remove it. I was better after.

    The drains on my chests were removed 9 days after surgery. The outputs were 10cc on left and none on right. Oh what a relief when they came off. They were irritating my chest muscles so much. Even when I turn my neck, it hurts coz the left drain runs across half of my chest.

    I thought it would stay for weeks too but the outputs were low. Doc said they remove it when it's less than 30cc for two days.

  • 30yomamma
    30yomamma Member Posts: 1
    edited March 2012

    i had left mastectomy 20 days ago... almost 3 weeks ago and i still have two drains in. they are awful. i'm so jealous of all the postings about getting them removed within 5-7 days.  I still have 90cc + of fluid. i've tried everything: light exercise, no exercise, drinking less water/ more water.  nothing works. i'm so miserable. these tubes are making me feel like an invalid and ruining my life. i can't pick up my daughter, i can't do anything. worst part of cancer treatment thus far without a doubt.

  • Momine
    Momine Member Posts: 2,845
    edited March 2012

    I had a BMX and nodes out on both sides, so I had four drains. I was in the hospital for five days, because they did not want to send me home with drains. I do not know how much fluid they produced. The surgeon's assistant dealt with that.

  • mmswarowski
    mmswarowski Member Posts: 3
    edited March 2012

    Hi Amy,

    I had PBMX on Feb 28 and still have 2 drains. I knew when I went for my one week appt with my BS that they weren't going anywhere. On the left side I had developed a fluid pocket (the drain clogged) and even with that I was still draining about 80ml a day. I go again tomorrow, but I do think they are staying in as I am still draining about 70ml a day. I would like to echo what all the other ladies have said I HATE THEM!!!!! I would rather have surgery all over again than deal with these drains. I just try to keep reminding myself that without them I would be building up all that fluid in my chest and that would be worse..that helps for like 30 seconds. I actually asked my BS "it is 2012 and these drains are the best thing we have to deal with this???", he said that yes it was, so I guess I just have to accept it is part of the process. Just feeling like I am going to be toting this stupid drains around forever! Here's to everyones drains being gone sooner rather than later!