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.

What Is a PICC Line?

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line is used for long-term IV antibiotics, nutrition or medications, and for blood draws. A PICC line is a thin, flexible tube that is inserted directly into one of your upper arms. The tip of the PICC line is inserted into a large vein that carries blood to the heart. Someone who is specially trained, such as a doctor, nurse, or physician assistant, will place the PICC line.

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What Is a Picc Line Used For?

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.

Risk Factors and Complications

If you develop a complication, your PICC line may need to be removed for necessary treatment. Depending on your situation, your doctor might recommend placing another PICC line or using a different type of catheter. Common complications include:

  • Bleeding
  • Accidental dislodgement
  • Infection
  • Leakage
  • Damage to veins in your arm

PICC Line vs Regular IV (Intravenous) Line?

An intravenous (IV) line is typically for short-term treatment, however a PICC line is much more durable and can stay in place for up to three months. A PICC line is thicker than a regular IV. The PICC line tube goes deeper into the vein and is longer than an IV.

A PICC line can be easier if you are undergoing regular blood draws because it lowers the number of needle sticks you’d receive. PICC lines are also better for large amounts of fluids and medications, as they might not be able to go through regular IV’s.

What to Expect During PICC Line Placement

To place a PICC line, 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.

What Happens After Getting a PICC Line?

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.