Home Care for Central Venous Catheters (Central Line)

What is a Central Line?

A central line catheter is a thin, flexible tube that is placed into a vein in the neck or chest area. One end of the catheter rests in the vein, near the heart and the other end of the catheter is brought through the skin.

Why Do I Need a Central Line?

Your doctor has determined that you need a central line catheter. Central lines are a very effective way to:

  • give IV fluids or medications that need to be placed directly into a vein
  • give transfusions or take blood samples
  • deliver chemotherapy 
  • provide access to a central vein, preserve the veins in your arms, and limit the amount of needle sticks.

How Will the Central Line be Inserted?

Your central line will be put in place by an interventional radiologist. You will be given a local anesthetic and the end of the catheter that extends through the skin will be held in place by two sutures. This site may initially feel tight because of the adhesive bandage, but it will loosen up. You do not have to restrict your head or neck motion.

Homecare Videos

Central Line
This two-part video provides step-by-step instructions on how to care for the line, lower the risk of infection and unwanted complications, and when you should contact your doctor.

Caring For Your Central Line

Once you are home, caring for the line is very important. A printable version of these home care instructions can be downloaded here: Central Line Home Care PDF

Key Points

  • Be sure you have a safe and clean area to store your supplies.
  • Store the equipment on a table or shelf at or above waist height.
  • Develop a routine for line care so that your supplies are convenient.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching the line. You can wash your hands at the sink, or use sanitizing gel. Be sure to clean thoroughly and for the recommended amount of time.

Supplies for Changing the Dressing

  • Be sure you have everything you will need for the dressing change.
  • Antiseptic swab or pad
  • Clean gloves
  • Drape
  • Two masks
  • Sterile gloves
  • Window dressing (gauze and tape)
  • You may be given an additional type of dressing such as an antiseptic disk, which is placed around your catheter.

Removing the Old Dressing

  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.
  • Put on clean gloves.
  • Open the dressing kit and carefully remove the mask without touching anything else in the kit.
  • Put on the mask. If someone is assisting you, they will need to wear a mask as well.
  • Carefully remove the old dressing. Start by gently removing the tape around the edges first, working inward. Do not touch the skin around the insertion site. Be careful not to tug on the catheter.
  • Inspect the area around the site. Do not touch the site with your fingers. Check for redness, tenderness, swelling or drainage. If any of these are present, call your nurse and follow any additional instructions.
  • Remove the clean gloves and wash your hands.