What is a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC)?
A peripherally inserted central catheter or “PICC” is a thin, soft, flexible tube — an intravenous (IV) line. Treatments, such as IV medications, can be given though a PICC. Blood for laboratory tests can also be withdrawn from a PICC.
How is a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) inserted?
- A specially trained nurse or doctor will use an ultrasound machine to find the veins in your upper arm.
- Your arm will be cleaned and covered with a sterile cloth to prevent infection.
- Medicine is used to numb the area where the PICC will be placed. The PICC will be inserted into a vein just above the bend of your elbow and guided into a large vein in your chest. Most patients feel little or no discomfort during this procedure.
- Once the PICC is in place, it is held to your arm with special tape and covered with a sterile dressing.
- A chest x-ray is taken afterwards to make sure the PICC is in the right place.
- You will be able to bend your arm and use your arm just as you would without the PICC in place.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of using a PICC?
- A PICC is more comfortable compared with the many “needle sticks” that would have been needed for giving medications and drawing blood. The goal is to spare your veins from these frequent “needle sticks.”
- A PICC can also spare your veins and blood vessels from the irritating effects of IV medications.
- A PICC can be used in the hospital setting, nursing facility, or at home and can stay in place for weeks or months, if needed.
- A PICC can be used for many types of IV treatments.
- A PICC can be used to obtain most blood tests.
What are the risks during and after placement of a PICC?
- There may be slight discomfort during the procedure.
- Bleeding may occur at the insertion site.
- It is sometimes necessary to attempt more than once and it may not be possible to insert the entire length of the PICC.
- During insertion of a PICC, accidental puncture of an artery, nerve, or tendon can occur near the insertion site. However, this is a rare event.
- A clot may form around the catheter in the vein (thrombosis), which can cause swelling and pain in the arm.
- Inflammation in a vein (phlebitis) can develop from the use of all types of IVs, including PICCs.
- An infection may occur at the insertion site or in the bloodstream.
- The PICC can come out, partially or completely, if not well-secured and completely covered.
- The PICC can move out of position in the vein and may need to be removed or repositioned.
- The PICC may become blocked. Medication may need to be used to clear it.
Are there other options for receiving IV treatments?
- Short IV catheters can be placed in the arm or hand. These require frequent changes and are not suitable for some solutions and medications.
- A central venous catheter can be inserted into a vein in the neck, upper chest or groin. This type of catheter is for short-term use (less than 2 weeks) and can only be used in the hospital.
- There are other permanent types of catheters (Hickman and ports) that are inserted in the operating room.
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This document was last reviewed on: 07/30/2015