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PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. A PICC line is a catheter inserted into a vein on the inside of the upper arm and extends into a larger vein leading to the heart.
A PICC line allows medicines, nutrition, blood products, and fluids to be given into a large vein. Blood samples can also be taken.
One end of the catheter stays outside the skin and has one or two tubes called lumens. Each lumen has a cap called a needleless connector placed on the end. The connectors keep the lumens from leaking and keep air and bacteria out. The connectors allow medicines and fluids to be given without needle sticks.
A dressing is worn over the area to protect against infection and keep the catheter in place. The catheter can stay in place for months before it needs to be removed and replaced if needed.
It is important to take good care of the PICC line and follow all instructions to prevent infection and keep the line working properly.
There are always risks involved with anesthesia and surgery. The main risks during insertion include puncture of a blood vessel, blood clots, irregular heartbeat, nerve injury, and infection. After line placement, blood clots, movement of the catheter out of position, vein inflammation, and infection are the most common complications.
Serious complications are rare, but they do occur. Be sure to ask questions and follow all instructions given by the care team.
Many patients are awake during the procedure to insert a PICC line. Younger children may be given medicine to help them sleep or relax during the procedure. Patients who receive general anesthesia will be given NPO instructions for limiting food and drink before the procedure. It is very important to follow these guidelines. The actual placement of a PICC line usually takes about 15-30 minutes. The total time for the procedure can be 1-2 hours with anesthesia and recovery.
A nurse will teach families how to care for the PICC line. PICC lines must be flushed daily with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that keeps blood from clotting and blocking the line. A dressing is worn over the area to prevent infection and keep the catheter in place. A nurse will change the dressing once a week. The dressing must be changed if it gets wet, dirty, or comes off. It is important to keep the dressing from getting wet during bathing.
It may take a few days to get used to the PICC line. Your arm may feel sore or stiff. There may be some bruising.
It may feel like the line is pulling on the outside of the skin.
Medications may be given with a syringe or an IV bag. Let a nurse know if you have any pain or discomfort while receiving your medications.
Follow all care instructions to keep the line working properly and to prevent infection. Always wash your hands before touching the catheter. The needleless connector should be cleaned before each connection to the line.
Avoid activities that could damage the catheter such as contact sports or rough play. You should not swim with a PICC line because it increases the risk of infection.
Make sure the line is secured, and keep a clean, dry dressing over the site at all times. Watch for cracks or other signs of damage to the line.
A Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infection (CLABSI) can be life-threatening. Call your doctor at any sign of infection such as pain, redness, swelling, or fever.
Reviewed: October 2022