A central venous catheter, also called a central line, is a
long, thin, flexible tube used to give medicines, fluids, nutrients, or blood
products over a long period of time, usually several weeks or more. A catheter
is often inserted in the arm or chest through the skin into a large vein. The
catheter is threaded through this vein until it reaches a large vein near the
A catheter may be inserted into the neck if it will be used only
during a hospital stay.
Central venous catheters are used to:
A central venous catheter can be
left in place far longer than an
intravenous catheter (IV), which gives medicines into
a vein near the skin surface. Also, a central venous catheter allows a person to receive IV medicines at home.
There are several types of central venous catheters.
PICC line. A peripherally inserted central
catheter, or PICC line (say "pick"), is a central venous catheter inserted into
a vein in the arm rather than a vein in the neck or chest.
catheter. This type of catheter is surgically inserted into a vein in the neck
or chest and passed under the skin. One end of the catheter remains outside the skin. Medicines can be given through an opening in this end of the catheter. Passing the catheter
under the skin helps keep it in place better, lets you move around easier, and
makes it less visible.
Implanted port. This type is similar to a
tunneled catheter but is left entirely under the skin. Medicines are injected
through the skin into the catheter. Some implanted ports contain a small
reservoir that can be refilled in the same way. After being filled, the
reservoir slowly releases the medicine into the bloodstream. An implanted port
is less obvious than a tunneled catheter and requires very little daily care.
It has less impact on a person's activities than a PICC line or a tunneled
Possible complications from the use of a central venous catheter
Your nurses will teach you how to
take care of your catheter. You will learn how to
change the dressing and
flush your catheter. Call your doctor if you have questions or
You can take steps at home to care for your catheter:
911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call
Call your doctor now or seek
immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to
contact your doctor if:
Other Works Consulted
Nealis TB, Buchman A (2011). Enteral and parenteral nutrition. In EG Nabel, ed., ACP Medicine, section 6, chap. 10. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
December 14, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
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