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Central venous catheter - dressing change

Alternate Names

Central venous access device - dressing change; CVAD - dressing change

What to Expect at Home

You have a central venous catheter. This is a tube that goes into a vein in your chest. It will help carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It will also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

These catheters are used when people need medical treatment over a long period of time.

  • You may need antibiotics or other medicines for weeks to months.
  • You may need extra nutrition because your bowels are not working correctly.
  • You may be receiving kidney dialysis.
  • You may be receiving cancer drugs.

Dressings are special bandages that block germs and keep your catheter site dry and clean. You will learn how to change your dressing. You should change the dressing about once a week. You will need to change it sooner if it becomes loose or gets wet or dirty. After some practice, it will get easier. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.

It is okay to take showers and baths 7 -10 days after your catheter was put in place. When you do, make sure the dressings are secure and your catheter site is staying dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in the bathtub.

See also: Central venous catheter - flushing

Supplies You Will Need

Your doctor will give you a prescription for the supplies you will need. You can buy these at a medical supply store. It will be helpful to know the name of your catheter and what company made it. Write this information down and keep it handy.

When your catheter is put in place, the nurse will give you a label that tells you the make of the catheter. Keep this for when you buy your supplies.

To change your dressings, you will need:

  • Sterile gloves
  • Cleaning solution
  • A special sponge
  • A special patch, called a Biopatch
  • A clear barrier bandage, either Tegaderm or Covaderm

Changing Your Dressings

You will change your dressings in a sterile (very clean) way. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
  2. Remove all jewelry from your fingers before you wash your hands.
  3. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  4. Set up your supplies on a clean surface on a new paper towel.
  5. Put on a pair of clean gloves.
  6. Gently peel off the old dressing and Biopatch. Throw away the old dressing and gloves.
  7. Put on a pair of sterile gloves.
  8. Check your skin for redness, swelling, or any bleeding or other drainage around the catheter.
  9. Clean the skin with the sponge and cleaning solution. Air dry after cleaning.
  10. Place a new Biopatch over the area where the catheter enters your skin. Keep the grid side up and the split ends touching.
  11. Peel the backing from the clear plastic bandage (Tegaderm or Covaderm) and place it over the catheter.
  12. Write down the date you changed your dressing.
  13. Remove the gloves and wash your hands when you are done.
  14. Always throw your used supplies away in a separate container, not your home garbage.

Other Care

Keep all the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. It is a good idea to change the caps at the end of your catheter (called the “claves”) when you change your dressing.

When to Call your Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you:

  • Are having trouble changing your dressings
  • Have bleeding, redness or swelling at the site
  • Notice leaking, or the catheter is cut or cracked
  • Have pain near the site or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
  • Have signs of infection (fever, chills)
  • Are short of breath
  • Feel dizzy

Also call the doctor if your catheter:

  • Is coming out of your vein
  • Seems blocked, or you are not able to flush it

Updated: 12/30/2012

Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Shabir Bhimji MD, PhD, Specializing in General Surgery, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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