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Peripherally inserted central catheter

Alternate Names

PICC

What to Expect at Home

You have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC). This is a tube that goes into a vein in your arm. It will help carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It will also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

These catheters are used when people need medical treatment over a long period of time.

It is normal to have a little pain or swelling around the site for 2 or 3 weeks after the catheter is put in place. Take it easy. Do not lift anything with this arm or do strenuous activity for about 2 weeks. Take your temperature at the same time each day and write it down. Call your doctor if your temperature changes.

You will learn how to take care of your catheter to keep it working correctly and to help protect yourself from infection. After some practice, it will get easier. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.

Your doctor will give you a prescription for the supplies you will need. You can buy these at a medical supply store. It will be helpful to know the name of your catheter and what company made it. Write this information down, and keep it handy.

How to Flush Your Catheter

You will need to rinse out your catheter after every time it is used. This is called “flushing.” Sometimes you will also need to flush it in between uses.

To flush your catheter, you will need:

  • Clean paper towels
  • Saline syringes (clear), and maybe heparin syringes (yellow)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Sterile gloves
  • “Sharps” container. This is a special container for used syringes and needles.

You will flush your catheter in a sterile (very clean) way. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
  2. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  3. Set up your supplies on a clean surface on a new paper towel.
  4. Put on a pair of sterile gloves.
  5. Remove the cap on the saline syringe and set it down on the paper towel. Do NOT let the uncapped end touch the paper towel or anything else.
  6. Unclip the clamp on the end of the catheter and wipe the end of the catheter with an alcohol wipe.
  7. Screw the saline syringe to the catheter to attach it.
  8. Inject the saline slowly into the catheter by gently pushing on the plunger. Do a little, then stop, then do some more. Inject all the saline into the catheter. Do not force it. Call your doctor if it is not working.
  9. When you are done, unscrew the syringe and put it in your sharps container.
  10. Clean the end of your catheter again with a new alcohol wipe.
  11. Put the clamp on the catheter if you are done.

Ask your doctor if you also need to flush your catheter with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that helps prevent blood clots.

Follow these steps to flush your catheter with heparin:

Attach the heparin syringe to your catheter, the same way you attached the saline syringe.

  1. Flush slowly by injecting a little at a time, the same way you did the saline.
  2. Unscrew the heparin syringe from your catheter. Put it in your sharps container.
  3. Clean the end of your catheter with a new alcohol wipe.
  4. Put the clamp back on the catheter.

Dressing Changes

Dressings are special bandages that block germs and keep your catheter site dry and clean. You will learn how to change your dressings. You should change the dressing about once a week. You will need to change it sooner if it becomes loose or gets wet or dirty.

Changing Your Dressings

To change your dressings, you will need:

  • Sterile gloves
  • A cleaning solution
  • A special sponge
  • A special patch, called a Biopatch
  • A clear barrier bandage, either Tegaderm or Covaderm

You will change your dressings in a sterile (very clean) way. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
  2. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  3. Put on a pair of sterile gloves.
  4. Gently peel off the old dressing and Biopatch.
  5. Check your skin for redness, swelling, or any bleeding or other drainage around the catheter.
  6. Clean the skin with the sponge and cleaning solution.
  7. Place the new Biopatch over the area, with the grid side up.
  8. Peel the backing from the clear plastic bandage (Tegaderm or Covaderm) and place it over the catheter.
  9. Write down the date you changed your dressing.
  10. Remove the gloves and wash your hands when you are done.

Other Care

Keep all of the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. It is a good idea to change the caps at the end of your catheter (called the “claves”) when you change your dressing and after blood is drawn.

It is okay to take showers and baths 7 to10 days after your catheter was put in place. When you do, make sure the dressings are secure and your catheter site is staying dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in the bathtub.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you:

  • Have bleeding, redness or swelling at the site
  • Notice leaking, or the catheter is cut or cracked
  • Have pain near the site, or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
  • Have signs of infection (fever, chills)
  • Are short of breath
  • Feel dizzy
  • Are having trouble flushing your catheter or changing your dressings

Also call your doctor if your catheter:

  • Is coming out of your vein
  • Seems blocked

Review Date: 1/30/2009
Reviewed By: Joseph P. Hart, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Medical University of Southern Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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