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What is a PICC Line?

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  • Written By: Lucinda Reynolds
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Images By: Teresinagoia, Tawesit, Burlingham, 7Activestudio, Sudok1, n/a, Poco_Bw, Photographee.eu
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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The acronym PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. This is a tube that is long and slender, and is typically inserted into a vein located in the upper arm. The tube is then advanced until the tip terminates in a vein in the chest near the heart. The PICC line is used for the administration of intravenous fluids and medications.

These types of intravenous lines can be inserted by a specially trained nurse, radiologist, or a physician's assistant. This procedure is usually done at the bedside under sterile conditions. Ultrasound is used to visualize the large vein found in the upper arm. After the PICC line is put in place, a chest x-ray is performed to confirm proper placement before the line is used.

There are various reasons why a patient may need a PICC line. Some patients may need chemotherapy or antibiotics for an extended period of time. These peripherally inserted central catheters can stay in place for months, which make them ideal for long-term use.

Hyperalimenatation is another reason why a patient may require a PICC line. This intravenous solution is a way of providing the body with all the vitamins and nutrients it needs through the vein. Hyperalimentaion is usually given to individuals who have intestinal disorders and are unable to eat. In many cases, the need for hyperalimentaton will last for several months.

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This peripherally inserted central catheter can also be used for patients who have bleeding disorders. These patients usually require the long-term administration of blood or blood products. These infusions can easily be given through a PICC line. Another advantage to this type of central catheter is the ability to draw blood from the line. This will keep the patient from being stuck multiple times for blood samples.

As with any type of invasive procedure, there are risks involved with the insertion of this type of line. An air embolism can occur during insertion, which can cause the patient to become lightheaded and short of breath. Infection is a risk because there is an opening in the skin for bacteria to enter. Nerve injury or irritation may occur during insertion; this can cause shooting pain down the arm or weakness of the extremity.

Thrombus or blood clot formation is a small possibility with a peripherally inserted central catheter. This blood clot can form in the catheter line or in the vein itself. If the line becomes clogged, the nurse can inject a special medication into the line that will help to dissolve the clot. Once dissolved, the line should flush easily.

Once the need for the PICC line is over, it can easily be removed. This can be done by a nurse or other properly trained healthcare personnel. Once the line is removed, the length is measured for comparison to the insertion length. This will confirm that all of the line was removed.

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