A PICC line is a long, soft, flexible tube that is inserted through a vein in the arm. PICC stands for Percutaneously Inserted Central Catheter.
When is a PICC line used? A PICC line is used when a person needs intravenous medication, chemotherapy, or fluids for an extended period of time. These medications quickly cause smaller veins to clot off, so they must be delivered into the larger veins closer to the heart.
It is also used when someone requires frequent blood sampling. The most common uses for a PICC line are for giving antibiotics and chemotherapy through the veins.
How is the PICC line placed? A healthcare professional will place a PICC line in a person's arm. The procedure is done either in a hospital or in an outpatient facility. Using a needle or a guide wire, the professional inserts the PICC line into a vein located in the arm. From there it is threaded into a larger vein near the heart.
Once the catheter is in the correct position, the needle or guide wire is removed and the catheter is left in place. The catheter site is covered with a sterile dressing and the tubing is securely taped to the person's skin.
Plastic tubing is connected to the end of the catheter. A chest x-ray will be done after the PICC line is inserted to check that it is correctly placed.
How long can a PICC line stay in place? The PICC catheter can generally remain in place from five days to several months. In some cases, the catheter can remain in place for up to a year.
What type of care does the PICC line require? The dressing is changed once a week by a healthcare professional. If the catheter is not being used continuously, it can be flushed with saline solution to prevent it from clogging.
What precautions should be taken after a PICC line has been inserted? The catheter site must be kept dry. The person may bathe or shower as long as the insertion site is protected with a water-resistant covering.
The person's blood pressure should not be taken in the arm with the PICC line. The PICC line site should be checked every day for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or pain.
What are the complications associated with a PICC line? A PICC line is designed to stay in place for many months. However, the catheter can sometimes cause phlebitis, or vein irritation, causing a red streak to appear on the arm.
If the line becomes infected, the person may develop a fever, chills, or a rash. The healthcare professional should be notified of these, or any other new or worsening symptoms.
Illustrated Manual of Nursing Practice, 2nd Ed., 1994