Caring for Your Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter

What is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter?

A peripherally inserted central catheter, often called a “PICC line,” is a long, very thin, flexible tube that is usually placed into one of the large veins in the arm, often just above or just below the elbow. This tube is threaded into a large vein above the right side of the heart.

Why are PICC Lines Used?

The PICC line will be used to give IV (intravenous) medicines or fluids. Because the tube is so small and flexible, the line can last several weeks to months, which means fewer needle pokes and less pain.
The PICC line can be flushed and capped off when not in use. When it is time to give medicine, the medicine is connected to the PICC line and disconnected again when the medicine is finished.

Preventing Infection

It is very important to prevent infection. An infection might require removal of the line. Cleanliness is a must! It is very important to follow the directions you were given in the hospital for keeping your PICC supplies sterile while at home so that no bacteria can enter the line and cause an infection. The dressing and cap must be changed weekly. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 15-20 seconds before handling the line.

Flushing the PICC Line

The PICC line must be flushed so fluids will flow easily. If the line becomes clogged, it may have to be removed. A nurse will teach you how to flush the line and give medicines before you are discharged from the hospital.

General PICC Line Care:

  • No strenuous activity or heavy lifting for first 48 hours after line is placed.
  • Never use scissors to remove tape/dressing from around the line.
  • Make sure the site stays dry at all times, even while showering. Swimming is also off-limits while the line is in place. Cover with LiquaShield when showering so the dressing does not get wet.
  • Always tape line to your arm to prevent it from snagging on objects. PICC Sleeves can be worn over the line during the day and add an extra level of protection.
  • Swimming and submersion are not allowed.
  • Change dressing/cap every 7 days or sooner if dressing starts to lift up.
  • No rough or contact sports as line may move or be damaged.
  • To prevent damage to line, do not use pins, sharp clamps or scissors near your line.
  • Avoid having dental work done while the line is in place as bacteria can be released into the bloodstream and attach onto the end of the line. If dental work is necessary, tell your dentist about the line at least 5 days before the dental work.
ProblemPossible CauseWhat to Do
  • Fever, chills

  • Soreness, redness, or puss at
    the line insertion site

  • Swollen arm
  • Infection
    • Take temperature

    • Call Doctor
    • Flushing problems

    • Unable to push medicine or
      fluids into PICC line
    • Line may be clamped

    • Line may be kinked

    • Line may be clotted

    • Unclamp it

    • Remove the kink

    • If not kinked or clamped, do not force the solution into the tube. Call your home care nurse.

    • Leaking from the ine
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    • Cap on PICC line not
      screwed on tightly

    • A hole in the line

    • Tighten the injection cap

    • Check the line for a tear

    • If you see a leak in the line, clamp it or fold it over and
      pinch it between the leak and the skin and call your home
      care nurse right away.

    • If you have trouble breathing or chest pain, lie on left
      side and call 911.

    • PICC line accidentally comes
    • Press down on the site for at least 5 minutes

    • Apply antibacterial ointment and cover it with a bandage

    • Call your doctor or home care nurse right away

    • Redness of skin where the tape
    • Sensitivity to tape
    • May need to have dressing changed and type of
      tape used
    • Redness and/or tenderness of
      upper arm
    • Mechanical Phlebitis
      (vein irritation from
      line) which may occur
      within first few days
      after line placement
    • This is not an infection

    • Apply warm packs

    • Notify your doctor or home care nurse
    • Length of exposed line is
    • Line has been pulled
      out partially or
    • Do not push line back in

    • Cover with gauze

    • Call your Doctor or home care nurse right away
    • Whooshing sound in ear

    • Numbness/tingling in arm

    • Discomfort in the jaw, ear, teeth or
      face on PICC side of body
    • Line may have moved

    • Line causing nerve

    • Stop medication

    • Call your Doctor or home care nurse right away