How a PICC line is fitted

Having a PICC line can be a scary thought, but knowing what to expect will help lower your anxiety. PICC stands for 'Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter', and will prevent you from having a needle inserted in a vein each time you need medicine. It is usually inserted into a vein in your upper arm, above your elbow. Which arm is used depends on your particular situation, but usually the non-dominant arm is used. 

All PICC lines have one end that goes through a vein in your upper arm up to a large vein near your heart. Medicine is less irritating when it is placed in a large vein. Outside your body, the PICC line divides into 1, 2, or 3 smaller tubes called lumens. Each lumen has a needleless connector (clave) and a disinfection cap on the end. 

How it is fitted:

  • Firstly your doctor or nurse may use an ultrasound scan to help them find the best vein to use in your arm. This is done by a small hand-held device that is rubbed gently over your arm. 
  • Secondly the skin in the area where the line will be put in is cleaned with antiseptic solution. Then anaesthetic cream or injection is used to dumb the area. When your skin is completely numb, a needle will be put into the vein.
  • Lastly the PICC line is then threaded through a needle into a large vein that leads to your heart and the needle is removed at the same time. This should not take long and is usually painless.
  • The PICC line will be held in place by a clear dressing and you may need a chest x-ray to check that the end of the tube is in the right place.
  • After your procedure, you’ll be monitored until you’re ready to move to your hospital room or be discharged from the hospital.

You might have some bleeding and mild discomfort at your catheter exit side. This can last for about 1 to 3 days after your procedure. If you have any bleeding from your exit site, apply pressure and a cold compress to the area. Call your doctor or nurse if the bleeding and discomfort gets worse at any time and do not shower for 24 hours after your procedure.  

Watch for these signs below and call your doctor if any of these signs happen:

  • Swelling, redness, red streaking, hot or hard area in PICC line arm

  • Pain in PICC line arm

  • Fever or chills

  • Swelling of the hand, arm and/ or neck on the same side as the PICC line.

  • Leaking of fluid when you flush the catheter