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Central Venous Catheter: Care Instructions

Areas on upper arms and upper chest where catheter may be put in

What is a central venous catheter?

A central venous catheter (CVC) is a thin, flexible tube. It's also called a central line. CVCs are used when you need to receive medicine, fluids, nutrients, or blood products for several weeks or more. The fluids are put through the CVC so that they move quickly into the bloodstream. The line can be used many times, so you are not poked with a needle every time.

A CVC is put through the skin into a vein, often in the neck, chest, arm, or groin. The point where the CVC leaves the skin is called the exit site. Usually about 30 centimetres (12 inches) of the line stays outside of the body. But sometimes the CVC is completely under the skin. The line may have 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.

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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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?

  • To help prevent infection, take a shower instead of a bath. When you shower, cover the site with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap. Do not go swimming with a central venous line.
  • Keep the dressing clean and dry. If you were given instructions about how to change the dressing at home, follow those instructions carefully.
  • Do not wear jewellery, such as necklaces, that can catch on the line.
  • Talk to your doctor about what activities you can do. You may not be able to do sports or exercises that use the upper body, such as tennis or weight lifting.
  • Clamp or tie off the line if it breaks. Then go see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Go to all appointments to flush the line. This keeps it open. A nurse or other health professional will flush the line.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the line.
    • Red streaks leading from the area around the line.
    • Pus draining from the area around the line.
    • A fever.
  • You have liquid leaking from around the line.
  • There are cracks or leaks in the tube.
  • You have pain or swelling in your neck or arm.
  • The line becomes clogged.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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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.