Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter
(PICC; PICC Line)
A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is a long, thin tube that is put through a vein in the arm. The catheter is threaded through the arm vein until it reaches a larger vein close to the heart. This is commonly called a PICC line.
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Reasons for Procedure
PICC lines may be used for those who need:
- Long-term medicine—and cannot take medicine by mouth
- Fluids—but cannot drink enough to stay hydrated
- Calories that they cannot get by eating
- IV medicine—if arm veins are hard to find or use
After the PICC 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 problems that could happen, such as:
- Bloodstream infection
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Damage to nearby structures
- Blood clots
- Blood vessel blockage—from air or part of the catheter
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The doctor may meet with you to talk about:
- Anesthesia options
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
- Tests that will need to be done before the procedure
The doctor will give local anesthesia—the area will be numbed.
Description of Procedure
The staff will place a tight wrap on the arm to slow blood flow. A small incision will be made in the arm. The catheter will be inserted into the vein. An ultrasound image may be used to help place the catheter. The catheter will be sutured or taped in place. Caps will be placed on the end of the catheter. The insertion site will be covered with a bandage.
How Long Will It Take?
About 30 minutes
Will It Hurt?
There may be mild discomfort at the insertion site after the procedure. Medicine can help.
At the Care Center
The staff may do an x-ray to make sure the catheter is in place. They may give medicines, fluids, or nutrition through the catheter. They may also flush the catheter.
The staff will also take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
- Washing their hands
- Wearing gloves or masks
- Caring for the catheter and site
There are also steps that 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
- Telling the staff right away if the bandage needs to be changed or if the site is red or sore.
- Not letting others touch your catheter
The PICC line will need proper care as advised by the doctor. You will not be able to swim or bathe while the PICC line is in. Some other activities may also be limited.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
- Signs of infection such as fever or chills
- Redness, swelling or pain at the insertion site
- Drainage or leakage from the PICC line
- Problems flushing or putting fluids into the PICC line
- A loose PICC line—or one that falls out
- Arm swelling
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
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 10, 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 10, 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.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Nicole Meregian, PA Last Updated: 9/9/2021