Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Central Venous Catheters
A central venous catheter, also called a central line, is a long, thin, flexible tube used to give medicines, fluids, nutrients, or blood products over a long period of time, usually several weeks or more. A catheter is often inserted in the arm or chest through the skin into a large vein. The catheter is threaded through this vein until it reaches a large vein near the heart.
A catheter may be inserted into the neck if it will be used only during a hospital stay.
Central venous catheters are used to:
A central venous catheter can be left in place far longer than an intravenous catheter (IV), which gives medicines into a vein near the skin surface. Also, a central venous catheter allows a person to receive IV medicines at home.
There are several types of central venous catheters.
PICC line. A peripherally inserted central catheter, or PICC line (say "pick"), is a central venous catheter inserted into a vein in the arm rather than a vein in the neck or chest.
Tunneled catheter. This type of catheter is surgically inserted into a vein in the neck or chest and passed under the skin. One end of the catheter remains outside the skin. Medicines can be given through an opening in this end of the catheter. Passing the catheter under the skin helps keep it in place better, lets you move around easier, and makes it less visible.
Implanted port. This type is similar to a tunneled catheter but is left entirely under the skin. Medicines are injected through the skin into the catheter. Some implanted ports contain a small reservoir that can be refilled in the same way. After being filled, the reservoir slowly releases the medicine into the bloodstream. An implanted port is less obvious than a tunneled catheter and requires very little daily care. It has less impact on a person's activities than a PICC line or a tunneled catheter.
Possible complications from the use of a central venous catheter include:
Your nurses will teach you how to take care of your catheter. You will learn how to change the dressing and flush your catheter. Call your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
You can take steps at home to care for your catheter:
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
Current as of:
June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineWilliam H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Current as of: June 26, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2020 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.