What is a PICC line?

A peripherally inserted central catheter, also called a PICC line, is a long, flexible tube (catheter) that is inserted into a vein in your upper arm. After insertion, the catheter is threaded into the central vein near the heart. PICC lines can be used to deliver fluids and medications, draw blood, or perform blood transfusions.

Having a PICC line reduces the need for repeated needling. This thread can stay in your body for up to 18 months. Your doctor can remove it when you no longer need it.

PICC lines can also deliver large volumes of fluids and medications that might otherwise be too irritating to tissue if delivered through standard intravenous (IV) lines.

This article explains when to use a PICC line and the procedure for inserting and removing it. It also outlines the possible risks of PICC lines and what you can do to reduce them.

Purpose of PICC Line

PICC lines are used when a person needs any type of intravenous treatment for a prolonged period of time. This includes:

  • Antibiotics or antifungals: Systemic (systemic) bacterial or fungal infections may sometimes require daily IV medication for several weeks.
  • Cancer treatment: Intravenous chemotherapy drugs can be corrosive to tissue. Rather than delivering them into smaller veins in the arm, doctors can use PICC lines to deliver them into larger veins where they are less damaging.
  • liquid nutrition: liquid nutrition, also known as total parenteral nutritioncan be provided daily through the PICC line for those who cannot eat or absorb nutrients.
  • Heart medications: Intravenous medications can also be given continuously to people with severe congestive heart failure.

PICC lines have multiple ports outside the body, called lumens. These allow the drugs to be given simultaneously without mixing. Blood transfusions can also be done at the same time.

PICC lines are also useful when repeated or ongoing blood draws are required.


PICC lines are used for the continuous delivery of drugs, fluids, liquid nutrients or blood without the need for repeated needle sticks. The PICC line has multiple ports, called lumens, through which IV treatments can be administered simultaneously.

How to use a central venous catheter

PICC Line Program

A PICC wire is a catheter with a guide wire inside. This will stiffen the tube so that it is easier to pass into the vein.

PICC lines are typically placed at the patient’s bedside in a hospital or nursing facility by a nurse or physician assistant. It can also be done on an outpatient basis before chemotherapy treatment.

The process takes about an hour and typically includes the following steps:

  1. A vein was selected. A non-invasive imaging tool called ultrasound can be used to select the best site and guide wire placement.
  2. Anesthetic (usually 1% lidocaine solution) is injected at the insertion site.
  3. After cleaning the area, a small incision is made to access the vein.
  4. Gently thread the thread through the blood vessel and advance (but not into) the heart. You may feel unusual pressure, but usually no pain.
  5. After the thread is placed, it is secured to the skin of the arm with sutures.
  6. Perform an X-ray to ensure the wire is positioned correctly.


Removal of the PICC wire is quick and usually painless. Remove the stitch that holds the thread, then gently pull the thread away from the arm. Most people say removing stitches feels weird, but neither uncomfortable nor painful.

Once the PICC wire is out, the end of the wire is checked. It should look the same as when it was inserted, with no missing pieces left in the body.

A sterile bandage is placed over the wound and left for two to three days while the wound heals.


PICC lines can be placed in inpatient or outpatient settings by a nurse or physician assistant. The procedure takes about an hour and uses a numbing agent to avoid pain. Removal of the thread is also usually painless.

When a centerline is required

Risks and Complications

PICC lines carry certain risks, some of which are manageable, while others can be life-threatening. Possible complications include:

  • Failure: The PICC line may be blocked by material being transported through the line. There are some medicines that can help break the blockage, but sometimes the line needs to be changed.
  • Infections: Bacterial infections can occur if the port or insertion site is not cleaned and cared for regularly. The longer the PICC line remains in place, the greater the risk.
  • Blood clots: A blood clot can form on the inner end of the wire.If the clot ruptures, it can travel through the heart to the lungs, causing a potentially life-threatening blockage called pulmonary embolism.
  • Arrhythmia: If the wire is too close to (or within) the heart, it can trigger an abnormal heartbeat, called Arrhythmia. If not treated right away, the thread may eventually damage the heart muscle or valve.


There are risks associated with placing a PICC line, including infection, blood clots, and abnormal heart rhythms. Lines can also become clogged and may sometimes need to be replaced.

safety warning

PICC production lines require regular maintenance to avoid infection. In addition to routine dressing changes, the port will need to be cleaned and flushed with sterile fluid on a regular basis. It is also important to wash your hands before touching any part of the port or PICC wiring.

Your healthcare provider will tell you which activities to avoid, such as weight lifting or contact sports.

You will also need to cover the PICC area with plastic wrap or a waterproof bandage every time you shower. Never get the PICC site wet, so you must avoid immersing your arm in a bathtub or sink until the thread is removed and the wound heals.

Seek emergency care if you experience any of the following while using the PICC line:

  • The port will not flush.
  • PICC line leak.
  • The part of the line on the outside of the body suddenly became longer.
  • You have sudden arm or chest pain.
  • Increased pain, warmth, redness, or swelling around the insertion site.
  • You have a high fever with chills.
  • You notice changes in your heartbeat, such as palpitations.


PICC tubing requires proper maintenance to avoid infection. This includes changing dressings regularly, cleaning and rinsing the port, and washing hands before touching any part of the port or PICC line.


A peripherally inserted central catheter, also called a PICC line, is a thin tube placed in a vein in the upper arm and passed through the heart. It is used to deliver fluids, medications, liquid nutrients or blood directly into the bloodstream. PICC lines can be kept for up to 18 months.

PICC lines can be inserted by a nurse or physician assistant in an inpatient or outpatient setting. The process takes about an hour to complete. To avoid pain, an anesthetic is injected near the insertion site. The placement of the wire is usually guided by ultrasound.

PICC lines carry certain health risks, including infection, blood clots, and abnormal heartbeats (arrhythmias). The risk of infection can be reduced by regularly changing dressings, flushing and cleaning catheter ports, and thoroughly washing hands before touching any part of the line.

VigorTip words

Although PICC lines can sometimes lead to serious complications, the benefits often outweigh the risks. Even so, be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you take any medications or have any medical conditions (such as arrhythmias) that may put you at special risk.