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A central line, also known as a central venous catheter (CVC), is a thin, long, flexible tube. The line passes through an opening in the skin and into a vein. The central line then travels through the vein until it reaches a spot just near or inside the heart.
The other end of the line extends outside of the body. The part on the outside of the body has a connector. The connector helps keep the line from leaking and helps keep germs out of the body.
The care team uses the central line connector to give:
The care team can also use the line to collect blood samples for tests, such as a complete blood count and blood chemistry studies.
The care team will remove your child’s line when it is no longer needed.
There are 3 types of central lines:
The type of central line depends on:
A child may get a central line if they are seriously ill and need treatment for a long time. Your care team will tell you why your child needs a central line. Before line placement, the doctor may ask that your child follow NPO (nothing by mouth) instructions to limit food and drink. Your child must follow these instructions if asked to do so.
Your child might be awake or asleep (sedated) for the procedure. If your child will be awake, the care team will numb the skin first to prevent pain. Some patients may get general anesthesia to help them sleep during the procedure.
Anesthesia and surgical procedures always have risks. Your care team will tell you the risks and benefits of the surgery and anesthesia. They will also explain the risks and benefits of having a central line.
It may take several days for your child to feel comfortable with their line. Let your care team know about any pain or discomfort your child feels.
If your child is going home with the central line, your care team will teach you how to care for it. It is best if several family caregivers get line care training. Ask your care team about anything you do not understand.
Your child should not do activities that could damage the line, such as contact sports and rough play. They must not swim or get the site wet, as this can increase the risk for infection. Ask your care team what your child can and cannot do.
Watch for problems from a central line. This includes infections, blood clots, and movement of the line. Some infections, such as a central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) can be life threatening. Call your doctor right away if you have concerns.
Learn more about central venous lines and other related information:
Reviewed: April 2023