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An arterial catheter is a piece of long plastic tubing or line that is placed directly into an artery or a blood vessel. It is typically used in intensive care situations. When a patient's blood pressure or blood-gas measurements need to be monitored, an arterial catheter is used for a quick analysis. The placement of the arterial line is a painful procedure. Anesthetic is often used to reduce pain and discomfort, but it can also make the procedure more difficult.
There are four main arteries in which an arterial catheter can be inserted. The dorsalis pedis artery is located in the foot and the femoral artery is in the groin area. An arterial line can also be inserted into the radial artery in the wrist or brachial artery located in the elbow.
These catheters are inserted to monitor the blood, but blood samples can also be taken for tests. An arterial catheter can also be placed in an artery before a surgical procedure. The area surrounding the artery is cleaned and prepared and an injection is given into the artery. After the area is numbed with an anesthetic, the long plastic tubing is inserted into the artery, using the same needle. When the arterial line is placed into the blood vessel, the needle can be removed and the line is pushed further into the artery.
After the arterial catheter is in place, tubing is connected to it. A bandage is placed over the area to reduce slippage. The other end of this tubing is connected to a monitor. This machine shows how many times the heart beats and it also measures blood pressure. Other vital signs can also be seen on the monitoring screen.
Complications can sometimes arise when an arterial catheter is not inserted correctly. This can result in a blockage of the artery or hemorrhaging around the site of entry. Tissue damage followed by excessive bleeding can indicate a problem with the plastic lining and this can happen when the plastic tubing is disconnected from the catheter itself.
Bacterial infections are another possibility when it comes to an arterial catheter. Redness, swelling, and hot skin around the entry point can be a clear sign of infection. Typically, arterial lines are considered to be much safer than other types of catheters. Rarely, blood stream infections can still occur and they can be life threatening. The incidences of this happening are very low.