PICC Line 101

Diagnostic Radiology Nursing Supervisor
Monday, August 24, 2015 - 11:38am

You recently learned that your treatment path now requires the placement of a central catheter. You’re scared, confused, and don’t know what to expect. Take a deep breath! These anxious feelings are completely normal. However, a PICC line has many benefits and with the tips and advice below, you can feel confident in your ability to successfully manage your line.

PICC? What’s that?
PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. Basically, it’s a very long IV that can be used to deliver medication and nutrients, or to obtain blood samples.

Why do I need one?
PICC lines are a popular choice for clinicians, as they can be placed and removed relatively easily. Central lines are used to give medications and solutions that may be irritating to the smaller veins typically found in the lower arm and hands.

How will the line be put in?
A doctor or physician’s assistant will place the PICC line in your upper arm, under sterile conditions, using Ultrasound and X-ray.  During the insertion you will have to stay still, but it will typically take less than 30 minutes to accomplish. Once the PICC is placed, it can be used immediately. The line usually has one or two lumens (tails) that will dangle from the upper part of your arm, but will not interfere with the bending of your arm.

What will it feel like?
You will be awake and given local anesthetic during the insertion of the PICC line, similar to being at the dentist. It will burn for a few seconds and then go numb. It may feel strange but you shouldn't feel anything painful, just pressure.

What should I do with the dangling lumens?
A PICC line is a wonderful device that can make your treatment easier, but it can be awkward.  We instruct patients to cut the top off of an old sock and use it as a sleeve. This will keep the lumens, or the ends of the catheter, close to your arm. It's important that there isn’t any tension at the ends of the catheter; you do not want the catheter to pull out or get caught on anything. SleekSleeves are a stylish option that you can purchase, if desired. Pediatric patients should contact Carly's Club at Roswell Park to find out the fun designs available to them!

Okay, it’s in. Now what?
You will be instructed on how to flush and care for your PICC but situations may arise, such as not being able to flush the line. If you have resistance or cannot flush the lumen, make sure the clamps are open as this is easy to overlook. Sometimes the syringe is not fully screwed in, so disconnect and try to reconnect. If it still doesn’t work, notify your homecare nurse/agency or your Roswell Park clinic as you may have to come in for us to troubleshoot.

How do I care for my PICC?
It is very important to keep the PICC line site clean and dry, as infection is always a concern. Consistently wash your hands and care for the PICC line carefully; homecare nurses can assist you. At your insertion appointment, you will be given education materials that include a booklet and DVD. If you didn’t receive one, contact your clinic and one will be sent to you. You will also be given a card or pamphlet that has insertion information on it. Keep this in a safe place, such as with your green card, in case someone needs to see the information.

Can I shower with my PICC line?
People always wonder how they will be able to shower with a PICC line, and it does require some preparation. The most important thing is to keep the clear bandage clean and dry to prevent infection. The easiest way to do this is by wrapping your PICC line in plastic wrap and securing with tape. Always inspect your dressing to make sure it still has a good seal. If the dressing is starting to come off, it should be changed immediately.

What activities can I do?
You cannot swim with a PICC line, but many other activities are perfectly fine! Talk with your doctor or provider about the activities in which you can safely participate. As long as you don’t put pressure on the line or are doing something that could dislodge the PICC, there shouldn’t be any issues. Most light to moderate forms of exercise should be okay, such as walking, running, yoga, and even bowling.

As always, don’t hesitate to contact your nurse or doctor if you have any concerns!