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Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC): Care Instructions

PICC line entering vein in arm above bend in elbow, ending near the heart

Your Care Instructions

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is a soft, flexible tube that runs under your skin from a vein, usually in your arm, to a large vein near your heart. One end of the catheter stays outside your body. A PICC can safely stay in your vein for weeks or months.

A PICC is used to give you medicine, blood products, nutrients, or fluids. A PICC makes doing these things more comfortable for you because you will not be stuck with a needle every time. The end of the PICC will have 1, 2, or 3 lines depending on what is best for you.

Blood for a lab test is not normally taken through the PICC. A healthcare provider with extra PICC care training can take a blood sample, if needed.

You may feel a little pain when your healthcare provider numbs your arm. Your healthcare provider will then thread the catheter up a vein in your arm to a larger vein. The healthcare provider may use stitches or other devices to hold the catheter in place where it exits your arm.

After the procedure, the site may be sore for a day or 2. Place a warm pack (make sure it’s not too hot and cover it with a towel) on your upper arm above the PICC. This will help with any soreness or discomfort from the PICC. You can use the warm pack for short periods for the first 24 hours after you get the PICC. If you still have soreness or discomfort after 24 hours, talk to your doctor or nurse.

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.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activities

You can use your arm and shoulder with the PICC for everyday activities like cooking, shaving, and brushing your teeth.

Be sure you do not:
  • Lift anything over 4.5 kg (10 lbs.) with your arm that has the PICC.
  • Do activities where you repeat the same movements, like golfing, bowling, or vacuuming.
  • Put pressure around your upper arm where the PICC is (such as using a blood pressure cuff).

Be careful if you use crutches, a wheelchair, or a walker. For example, don’t let the crutches put pressure in the armpit of your arm that has the PICC. Talk to your healthcare provider if you use these types of medical equipment.


Safety tips

  • Wear loose clothing over the catheter. When getting dressed, be careful not to pull on the catheter.
  • Avoid clothing that rubs or pulls on your catheter.
  • Don’t bend or crimp your catheter.
  • Always wash your hands before you touch your catheter.
  • Never touch the open end of the catheter if the cap is off.
  • Never use scissors, knives, pins, or other sharp objects near the catheter or other tubing.
  • If your catheter has a clamp, keep it clamped when you are not using it.
  • Fasten or tape the catheter to your body to prevent pulling or dangling.
  • If your PICC gets broken or torn, fold it over between the damaged area and where it goes into your skin. Tape the PICC to your skin and cover it with a sterile dressing, if you can. Call your healthcare provider right away.

Washing yourself

  • To help prevent infection, take a shower instead of a bath. Do not go swimming with the catheter.
  • Try to keep the area dry. When you shower, cover the area with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap.

How to change the dressing

Since the PICC is in one of your arms, you won't be able to change the dressing on your own. You'll need someone to help you change the dressing. The healthcare provider who ordered your PICC should arrange for home care or an outpatient clinic to do your dressing changes.

Your PICC dressing should be changed at least once a week. If the dressing gets loose, wet, or dirty, it must be changed more often to prevent infection.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast or uneven pulse.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus or blood draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have swelling in your face, chest, neck, or arm on the side where the catheter is.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as bulging veins near the catheter.
  • Your catheter is leaking, cracked, or clogged.
    • If you have bleeding or leaking that is heavy enough to soak through the dressing, put firm pressure on the PICC where it goes into your skin.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your catheter.
  • Your catheter is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you pull on the catheter.
  • You have chest pain or shortness of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have any concerns about your catheter.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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