What is a PICC Line?

Lucinda Reynolds

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.

A PICC line is used for administering intravenous fluids.
A PICC line is used for administering intravenous fluids.

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.

Ultrasound machine is used to visualize the large vein found in the upper arm for the PICC line.
Ultrasound machine is used to visualize the large vein found in the upper arm for the PICC line.

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.

A PICC line can be used both to administer antibiotics and to draw blood.
A PICC line can be used both to administer antibiotics and to draw blood.

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.

A chest X-ray will be performed to make sure a PICC line was placed properly before it's used.
A chest X-ray will be performed to make sure a PICC line was placed properly before it's used.

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.

A PICC line may be inserted by a physician's assistant.
A PICC line may be inserted by a physician's assistant.

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.

Hyperalimentation, one reason why a patient may require a PICC line, is usually given to people with intestinal disorders.
Hyperalimentation, one reason why a patient may require a PICC line, is usually given to people with intestinal disorders.

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.

In some patients, PICC lines may be placed in the chest due to issues with blood clots or the veins in the arm.
In some patients, PICC lines may be placed in the chest due to issues with blood clots or the veins in the arm.

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.

Some ports are placed entirely under the skin, with the catheter tip terminating just above the heart.
Some ports are placed entirely under the skin, with the catheter tip terminating just above the heart.

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