Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) Line Placement

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A PICC line is placed to provide repeated access to your veins in order to give medications, fluids or blood products. These types of lines are typically used for patients undergoing treatment for cancer or other serious illnesses for which access to a patient’s veins is needed for several weeks or for as long as six months. Under the guidance of X-ray imaging, a doctor feeds a long thin tube – called a catheter – from a vein in the arm into the large vein in the heart (the superior vena cava) to place the PICC line. An external site remains to provide access during the patient’s ongoing treatment.

Need to Know

Nice to Know
  • Tell your technologist about any allergies, especially to local or general anesthetics and contrast material
  • Inform your technologist if you are pregnant
  • You’ll be given a gown to wear during your treatment
  • You’ll be awake during the procedure and can go home after
  • No surgical incision is needed, just a small nick in the skin
  • You may feel some discomfort after the procedure, but no serious pain


How Does It Work?

Under the guidance of fluoroscopy (a type of X-ray that can see motion in real time), your doctor will locate the vein in your arm and insert a small needle. Your doctor will then feed a small guide wire through the vein to the superior vena cava. Once the wire is in place, a catheter is inserted over the guide wire and moved into position. The specific length of the catheter is then determined based on your body habitus.  The guide wire is then removed, and the external portion is secured to your arm.

What Happens — Before, During, and After?

When you arrive for your procedure, a member of our clinical team will greet you and bring you into an exam room. You will be asked to empty your bladder and change into a gown. 

The technologist will bring you into the procedure room and position you on the table. Using the guidance of Ultrasound, your doctor will find the appropriate location to insert the PICC line. Your doctor will numb the area with a local anesthetic.Once the area is numb, your doctor will make a very small nick, and you may feel some pressure as the guide wire and catheter are inserted, but you won’t feel any serious discomfort.

Once the catheter is in place the wire will be removed. Pressure will be applied to stop any potential bleeding and the catheter will be taped in place on your arm. You will not need stitches. The procedure usually takes 30 to 40 minutes. When you feel ready you will be able to go home.

You may feel some discomfort after the procedure. This can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain medications. Please tell your doctor if you experience any swelling or major discomfort or develop a fever.

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How Should I Prepare?

There are things you can do to make your experience more comfortable, and many of these will depend on your individual preferences. You might like to keep a list of questions or — as you’re doing now — educate yourself about the procedure.

Some other things to keep in mind in planning for this procedure include:

  • Your doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), or blood thinners (such as Coumadin or warfarin) for a time before the procedure.
  • When you arrive, make sure the nurse and radiologist know about any allergies you may have, especially allergies to local anesthetics or contrast material.
  • If there’s any chance you may be pregnant, tell your radiologist.
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What Should I Bring?

On the day of your procedure you should:

  • Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Avoid bringing jewelry or valuables
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What Are the Benefits and Risks?

The benefits of a PICC Line Placement may include:

  • Allows medication to be given without certain complications associated with IV lines, such as irritation of the vein walls or tissue damage if a toxic drug leaks out of the vein.
  • Eliminates repeated needle sticks for patients undergoing ongoing treatment or therapy
  • Eliminates the side effects of repeated IV lines such as scarring of arm veins
  • PICC lines are easily removed once they are no longer needed
  • Some risks that you should be aware of include:
  • Like any procedure that involves a catheter, there is a risk of damage to blood vessels, bruising, bleeding, or infection at the puncture site.

Keep in mind that this information is general. Your radiologist is the best source of information about how these risks and benefits may apply to you.

Where Can I Get This Exam?

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