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Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC): Overview

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is a thin, flexible tube that's used to give medicine, blood products, nutrients, or fluids. One end is put through the skin into a vein in the arm and moved into a large vein near your heart. The other end stays outside your body. It is a type of central vascular access device, or central line. You may have it for weeks or months.

A PICC can be more comfortable for you because medicines and other fluids go directly into the catheter. So you will not be stuck with a needle every time. A PICC may be used to draw blood for tests only if another vein, such as in the hand or arm, can't be used. The end of the PICC sometimes has two or three openings so that you can get more than one type of fluid or medicine at a time.

Your doctor may give you medicine to make you feel relaxed. You may feel a little pain when your doctor numbs your arm. Your doctor will then thread the catheter up a vein in your arm to a larger vein. You will not feel any pain. The doctor may use stitches or other devices to hold the catheter in place where it exits your arm.

After the procedure, the site may be sore for a day or two. You may have a large bandage or other covering to help keep the PICC clean and in place.

Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC): When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast or uneven pulse.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus or blood draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have swelling in your face, chest, neck, or arm on the side where the catheter is.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as bulging veins near the catheter.
  • Your catheter is leaking, cracked, or clogged.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your catheter.
  • Your catheter is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you pull on the catheter.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any concerns about your catheter.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.