A central catheter is a long, thin tube inserted into a large vein. The vein may be in the neck, arm, shoulder, or leg.
A peripherally inserted central catheter is threaded through a vein in the arm.
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Reasons for Procedure
Central catheters are inserted to give:
Once the central line is in, it can be used for weeks to months.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Excess bleeding
- Bloodstream infection
- Blood clots
- Injury to nearby structures or organs
- Heart arrhythmias —changes in the way the heart beats
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The care team may meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
- Fasting before the procedure, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
- Whether you need a ride to and from the procedure
The doctor will give a local anesthetic—the area will be numbed. You may also be given medicine to help you relax.
Description of the Procedure
The procedure may be done it different ways. It depends on the type of catheter and the insertion site. In general:
A small incision will be made. A wire will be guided into the vein with an x-ray or ultrasound. The wire will insert the catheter. The wire will be removed. The catheter line will be secured with sutures or tape. Caps will be put on the end of the catheter. The insertion site will be covered with a bandage.
Some people have a port. A port is a small device under the skin where the catheter is placed. If a port is inserted, a small pocket for the port will be created under the skin. The incision will be closed over the pocket—usually with dissolving sutures.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
There may be mild discomfort at the insertion site after the procedure.
Average Hospital Stay
This procedure is often done in the hospital as part of treatment. Those getting outpatient treatment through the central catheter may be sent home the same day.
At the Hospital
Right after the procedure, the staff may:
- Show you how to use the catheter.
- Give you medications, fluids, or nutrition through the catheter.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Keeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection such as:
- Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
- Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
- Not letting others touch your incisions
It will take a day or so to recover. Certain activities may be limited during this time.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, excess bleeding, or discharge at the insertion site
- Pain at the insertion site
- Trouble flushing or inserting fluids into the catheter
- A loose catheter—or one that falls out
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Central venous catheter. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/central-venous-catheter. Accessed September 2, 2021.
FAQs: Catheter-associated bloodstream infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hai/pdfs/bsi/BSI_tagged.pdf. Accessed September 2, 2021.
Saugel B, Scheeren TWL, et al. Ultrasound-guided central venous catheter placement: a structured review and recommendations for clinical practice. Crit Care. 2017;21(1):225.
Vascular access procedures. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/vasc_access. Accessed September 2, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA Last Updated: 9/2/2021