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Peripherally inserted central catheter - insertion

What Is Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC)?

A PICC is a long, thin tube (called a catheter) that goes into a vein in your upper arm. The end of the catheter winds up in a large vein near your heart.

The PICC will help carry nutrients and medicines 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 intravenous (IV) medical treatment over a long period of time or if blood draws are becoming quite difficult.

How Is a PICC Inserted?

The procedure can be done in the radiology (x-ray) department or at your hospital bed.

  • You will lie on your back on a special table. Your arm will rest on a board.
  • A tourniquet (strap) will be tied around your arm near your shoulder.
  • Ultrasound pictures will be used to choose the vein and then help guide the needle into your vein. Ultrasound looks inside your body with a device that is moved over your skin.
  • The area where the needle will be inserted will be cleaned, and you will get a shot of medicine to numb your skin. This may sting for just a moment.
  • A needle is inserted, then a guide wire and a catheter. The catheter and guide wire are moved through your vein to the proper spot.
  • During this process, the needle puncture site is made a little larger with a scalpel. One or 2 stitches will close it up afterwards. This will not hurt.

The catheter that was inserted will be connected to another catheter that will stay outside your body. You will receive medicines and other fluids through this catheter.

After the Catheter is Placed

It is normal to have a little pain or swelling around the site for 2 or 3 weeks after the catheter is put in place. Take it easy. Do not lift anything with this arm or do strenuous activity for about 2 weeks.

Take your temperature at the same time each day and write it down. Call your doctor if you develop a fever.

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 stays dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in a bathtub.

Other Care

You will learn how to take care of your catheter to keep it working correctly and to help protect yourself from infection. This will include flushing the catheter , changing the dressing , and giving yourself medicines.

After some practice, taking care of your catheter will get easier. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.

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

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • Bleeding, redness, or swelling at the catheter site
  • Swelling of the arm downstream from the catheter
  • Leaking from the catheter, or the catheter is cut or cracked
  • Pain near the site, or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
  • Fever or chills
  • A hard time breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble flushing your catheter or changing your dressings

Also call your doctor if your catheter

  • Is coming out of your vein
  • Seems blocked

Updated: 3/17/2012

Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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