Find out what to expect during and after PICC line insertion. Learn about why it's done and potential PICC line complications.
A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC), also called a PICC line, is a long, thin tube that's inserted through a vein in your arm and passed through to the larger veins near your heart. Very rarely, the PICC line may be placed in your leg.
A PICC line gives your doctor access to the large central veins near the heart. It's generally used to give medications or liquid nutrition. A PICC line can help avoid the pain of frequent needle sticks and reduce the risk of irritation to the smaller veins in your arms.
A PICC line requires careful care and monitoring for complications, including infection and blood clots. If you're considering a PICC line, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
A PICC line is one type of catheter used to access the large veins in your chest (central venous catheter). Examples of other types of central venous catheters include implantable ports and central lines.
A PICC line is used to deliver medications and other treatments directly to the large central veins near your heart.
Your doctor might recommend a PICC line if your treatment plan requires frequent needle sticks for medicine or blood draws. A PICC line is usually intended to be temporary and might be an option if your treatment is expected to last up to several weeks.
A PICC line is commonly recommended for:
Once your PICC line is in place, it can be used for other things, too, such as blood draws, blood transfusions and receiving contrast material before an imaging test.
PICC line complications can include:
Some complications can be treated so that your PICC line can remain in place. Other complications might require removing the PICC line. Depending on your situation, your doctor might recommend placing another PICC line or using a different type of central venous catheter.
Contact your doctor right away if you notice any signs or symptoms of PICC line complications, such as if:
To prepare for your PICC line insertion, you might have:
The procedure to insert the PICC line takes about an hour and can be done as an outpatient procedure, meaning it won't require a hospital stay. It's usually done in a procedure room that's equipped with imaging technology, such as X-ray machines, to help guide the procedure. PICC line insertion can be done by a nurse, doctor or other trained medical provider.
If you're staying in the hospital, the procedure might be done in your hospital room.
During the PICC line insertion you'll lie down on your back with your arm extended to your side. You'll be awake during the procedure, but numbing medicine will be used to minimize discomfort.
A PICC line is usually inserted in a vein in your upper arm, above your elbow. Which arm is used depends on your particular situation, but usually the nondominant arm is used.
The doctor or nurse may use an ultrasound machine to assess the veins in your arm and make sure they're healthy enough to use for the PICC line. You might have a cuff tightened around your arm so that your veins stand out for inspection.
Once a suitable vein is identified in your arm, the skin around the area is cleaned and prepared. Numbing medicine is injected into the skin to minimize pain.
To place the PICC line, a needle is inserted through your skin and into the vein in your arm. Ultrasound or an X-ray might be used to confirm the placement. A small incision is made in the vein so that a thin, hollow tube (catheter) can be inserted.
Once the catheter is in your arm, it's carefully advanced along the vein. The catheter continues up your arm and toward your heart.
When the catheter reaches the right location, you might have an X-ray to verify the catheter is in place. If the procedure is being done in your hospital room, the doctor or nurse may use a heart-monitoring device to determine that the catheter has reached the correct location. You might have an X-ray later.
The other end of the catheter will stick out of your arm. A cap is placed over the end of the catheter to keep it free of germs. It may be taped down so it won't get in the way of your daily activities.
After a PICC line insertion, there may be some tenderness in the area where the catheter enters your arm. It should go away within a few days.
As you adjust to life with a PICC line, you'll need to consider:
Your PICC line is kept in place for as long as you need it for treatment.
Your PICC line can be removed when your treatment ends. To remove the line, a doctor or nurse gently pulls on the end of the catheter to remove it from your arm.
PICC line removal reduces your risk of complications, such as infection. But if there's a chance you may need a PICC line again, your doctor may recommend keeping it in place. That's because repeatedly placing the PICC line increases the risk of damage to your veins.