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HF 5093

Understanding Your Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC)

What is a PICC line? 

A PICC line is a thin, flexible, hollow tube placed in a vein in your arm, usually above the elbow. It is about 18 – 24 inches long and goes into the large vein near your heart. There are one, two, or three lumens (IV access lines) at the end of the catheter. This is where your medicine will be given and blood for lab tests can be drawn. 

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Why would a person need a PICC line?

Common reasons for having a PICC include:

  • To give IV medicines over a long period of time. An IV catheter can be in a large vein for a longer time than in a small vein. This would be for medicines such as antibiotics and chemotherapy.

  • To give IV medicines after you leave the hospital. You can be more active and get IV medicines at home.

  • To quickly deliver large amounts of fluid or blood.

  • To deliver nutrition directly into the blood when food or liquids cannot be given through the mouth, stomach, or intestine.

What are the risks of a PICC Line?

Some of the possible risks of a PICC line may include:

  • Bleeding. Bleeding can happen at the time the PICC line is placed. There is usually a small amount of bleeding that typically stops by itself. 

  • Blocking. Blood clots may start to form in the catheter. Regular flushing of the PICC line usually keeps the clots from blocking the tube. If the PICC line becomes blocked, it must be cleaned out by your health care provider.

  • Infection. Any tube going into the body can make it easier for germs from the skin to get into the bloodstream. A strict sterile protocol (procedure) is followed when inserting the PICC line. This is followed by strict care in cleaning and bandaging.

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PICC Dressing

  • Securement. Your catheter is held in place by a special device. This locks the catheter in place to keep it from coming out. 

  • Antimicrobial Gel. Around the catheter insertion site (where it enters your skin), there is an antimicrobial gel. This helps to keep your line from getting infected from bacteria on your skin.

  • Transparent Dressing. Your PICC line will be covered with a protective dressing to help prevent infection.

PICC Line Care

How your PICC line will be cared for in the hospital:

  • Anything that touches or goes into your PICC line will be sterile.

  • Blood pressures will not be taken on the arm with the PICC line. 

  • The nurse will change your dressing every 7 days. The dressing could be changed more often if the dressing becomes wet, soiled, or loose. 

  • The nurse will look at your PICC line every 8 hours to check the dressing condition. The nurse will also look for signs of infection such as: redness, tenderness or swelling. 

  • You will be able to shower. The PICC line will have to be covered with plastic to make sure it does not get wet. If the dressing becomes wet, tell your nurse right away so the dressing can be changed.

  • Your PICC line will be taken out as soon as it is not needed. The PICC will not be kept in for convenience.

Ways You Can Help Protect Your PICC 

  • Hand Washing. If your nurse or health care staff does not wash their hands and use gloves when handling your PICC line, please ask them to do so. 

  • Disinfection. If your nurse or health care staff does not “scrub the hub” (see diagram below) with an alcohol wipe for 15 seconds before attaching a syringe or other tubing, please ask them to do so.

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  • Dressing. If the bandage comes off or the edges of the dressing curl, becomes wet or dirty, tell your nurse or doctor right away.

  • Clamp. When not in use, the PICC line clamp must be in the closed position. 

  • Signs of Infection. Let your nurse or doctor know if the area around your catheter is sore or red. 

  • PICC Displacement. Let your nurse or doctor know if the length of catheter outside the skin is getting longer.

  • Removal. Ask when the PICC line can be taken out. The sooner the PICC comes out, the less chance you have of getting an infection.