What Is a PICC Line

If you or a loved one frequently require intravenous (IV) fluids, nutrients, or medicines — or if you often need to give blood samples — your doctor may recommend a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line.

Called a PICC line, this type of catheter can make it easier for clinicians to provide care without repeatedly pricking your skin with a needle. Here are answers to some common questions you might have about PICC lines.

For more information, or to find primary care doctors, visit UPMC.com/PCP or call 1-855-676-UPMCPCP.

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What Is a PiCC Line? Facts About PICC Lines

Q. What does PICC stand for?

A. A PICC is shorthand for “peripherally inserted central catheter.”

Q. What is a PICC line?

A. A PICC line is a thin, flexible tube that is inserted directly into one of your upper arms and then advanced to the vein above your heart. Someone who is specially trained, such as a doctor, nurse, or physician assistant, will place the PICC line.

Q. Why are PICC lines used?

A. You doctor may suggest placing a PICC line because:

  • You need ongoing medication for the treatment of cancer, pain, or an infection.
  • You cannot eat by mouth and need IV fluids and nutrients.
  • Your clinician must test your blood frequently and want to avoid multiple needle sticks.

Because it is deeply placed, a PICC line can be left in your arm longer than a regular IV catheter. That makes it useful if you need to continue receiving medication or nutrition at home after leaving the hospital.

Q. What is involved in placing a PICC line?

A. First, your skin will be carefully cleaned at the place where the PICC will go in. The doctor or nurse will insert a special needle through your skin, and then thread the catheter through this needle to place it in the right spot.

“A chest x-ray and electrocardiogram technology help your doctor or nurse know if the PICC line is placed properly,” says Kristina Marie Rahnamay-Azar, DO, Franklin Park Family Practice-UPMC. Part of the catheter will remain outside your body and taped in place before being covered with a sterile dressing.

Q. What happens next in the treatment process?

A. Your care team will leave the PICC line in place as long as it’s needed. The dressing will need to be changed every week (or more often if it becomes dirty or loose). A medical professional also will flush the catheter regularly to make sure it stays open.

You’ll want to keep an eye on the insertion site to make sure it doesn’t become red or painful. If it does, you should tell your doctor or medical professional. Your doctor or nurse can give you suggestions about how to care for a PICC line at home.

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About Primary Care

A bond between doctor and patient can be extremely valuable, and that’s what you get with UPMC Primary Care. When you work with a primary care physician (PCP), you develop a lasting relationship. Your doctor will get to know you and your history and can plan your treatments accordingly. Our PCPs offer a variety of services, including preventive care and treatment for both urgent and chronic conditions. We also operate primary care walk-in centers where you can get treatment without an appointment.