DISCOVER
×

How Does a PICC Line Work?

Updated June 13, 2017

A PICC (percutaneously inserted central catheter) line is a long-term intravenous access device that enables patients to receive IV drugs. It also enables health-care workers to draw blood without repeated needle sticks to patients. Patients who have small veins that collapse easily or are difficult to find benefit greatly from a PICC line, which may remain in place anywhere from several months to a year.

PICC lines are inserted by specially trained personnel. A peripheral vein is chosen, usually on the upper inside of the arm, and a guide wire is threaded through a vein under the clavicle and down near the heart. The outside of the PICC line catheter is then sutured to the patient's skin, and a sterile dressing applied. An immediate chest X-ray is then performed to ensure proper placement of the line.

What a PICC line is.

A PICC (percutaneously inserted central catheter) line is a long-term intravenous access device that enables patients to receive IV drugs. It also enables health-care workers to draw blood without repeated needle sticks to patients. Patients who have small veins that collapse easily or are difficult to find benefit greatly from a PICC line, which may remain in place anywhere from several months to a year.

PICC lines are inserted by specially trained personnel. A peripheral vein is chosen, usually on the upper inside of the arm, and a guide wire is threaded through a vein under the clavicle and down near the heart. The outside of the PICC line catheter is then sutured to the patient's skin, and a sterile dressing applied. An immediate chest X-ray is then performed to ensure proper placement of the line.

Uses of a PICC line.

Cancer patients benefit greatly from PICC lines, which are more comfortable than peripheral IV lines as they are most frequently placed on the inside of the upper arm. A patient is able to maintain a greater range of motion.

PICC lines can be used to administer several IV medications simultaneously if there is more than one "lumen" or port on the outside end. As the internal end of a PICC line is placed in a larger vein, medications that are frequently caustic to smaller veins, such as potassium, do not result in a burning sensation while being administered. Each port of the line catheter has a separate opening a few centimetres apart from each other, which will deliver medications closer or further away from the heart.

Maintenance of a PICC line.

Most inpatient PICC lines are flushed with normal saline, but heparin, a clot buster, may also be used. The dressing of a PICC line must be changed at least weekly using a sterile technique to prevent infection. Care must also be taken to prevent accidental removal of the sutures that hold the line in place. Should a line become dislodged and pulled out from the vein, even slightly, it requires reinsertion, and a second chest X-ray must be performed to ensure proper placement.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Gloria Attar is a registered nurse specializing in cardiac critical care. She has been a professional writer since 1983, covering health care, wellness and nutrition topics. Attar earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Kent State University.