What is a PICC line?

By Brooke Strickland

A PICC line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) is a long, slender, flexible tube that is inserted into a peripheral vein that is threaded through a large vein in the chest near the heart.  The upper arm is usually the best place to insert the PICC line, but they can also be inserted through the leg and even the head.   PICC lines are like standard IVs, but instead offer centralized treatment through the central line of the body.

What is the PICC used for?

-Long-term antibiotics

-Chemotherapy

-Blood transfusions

-Drawing of blood samples

-Nutrition

How is a PICC inserted?

To insert a PICC, a specially trained PICC nurse specialist, radiologist, or physician assistant will use x-ray and ultrasound technology to locate the best and strongest vein.  For adults, the PICC is generally inserted via bedside to reduce discomfort.  For children and infants, light sedation or even full general anesthesia may be required as to decrease mobility and allow ease of access to the child’s veins. 

What are the risks with having a PICC line?

Infection is one of the greatest risks of having a PICC line.  It’s possible that the area near the outside of the line can get infected and go into the vein.  It’s very important to keep the area dry and clean.  If it becomes red, swollen or painful, or if you see discolored fluid discharging and develop a fever, call your doctor immediately. 

It’s also possible for the PICC line to become blocked.  To help reduce the risk of this happening, sterile saline fluid is injected through the PICC line to help flush it.  This can be done once a day, or once a week – every doctor’s orders differ on how often the PICC should be flushed. 

There is also a risk that the line can come out.  If the line is not secured well with tape or covered dressing, it can come out.

How is the PICC removed?

The PICC line removal is simple and painless. It can be gently pulled out and removed in an outpatient setting or even in the patient’s home in only a matter of minutes.  It will be removed by a specially trained nurse.

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