A central venous catheter is a thin, flexible tube. It is also called a central line or C-line. Central lines are used when you need to receive medicine, fluids, nutrients, or blood products for several weeks or more. The fluids are put through the central line so that they move quickly into the bloodstream. The line can be used many times, so you are not stuck with a needle every time.
A central line is put through the skin into a vein, often in the neck or chest, and threaded through the vein until the tip of the catheter reaches a large vein near the heart. The point where the central line leaves the skin is called the exit site. Usually about 30 centimetres of the line stay outside of the body. Sometimes the line has two or three ends so that you can get more than one medicine at a time. These ends are called lumens. The end of each lumen is covered with a cap.
Sometimes the central line is completely under the skin. The central line may also be put in through the arm.
You will feel a little pain when the doctor numbs the area. You will not feel any pain when the central line is put in. You may be a little sore for a day or two. You can take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as Tylenol or Advil, for relief.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
If you just got your central line, do not let the exit site get wet for 72 hours. Avoid exercise until your doctor says it is okay.
If you have a gauze dressing, change it every 48 hours. If you have a clear plastic dressing, change it every 5 days. Also change your dressing if it is damp, bloody, loose, or dirty. Your doctor may also give you directions for when to change the dressing.
Be sure you have all your supplies ready. These include medical tape, a surgical mask, sterile gloves, your dressing, an applicator, and skin-protecting swabs. The names and brands of the items will vary. Your doctor or nurse may give you specific instructions for changing the dressing.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter Q250 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Your Central Venous Catheter: Changing the Dressing".
Current as of: March 20, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
©2006-2017 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.