What is a PICC line?
A PICC line (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) is a long, flexible tube inserted into a vein on the upper arm. It is designed to reach a large vein near the heart which allows us to give chemotherapy, blood products and antibiotics easily. All that you will be aware of is a small length of line externally, resting on your arm. The line will have one or two cavities within the tube and, since it can be used to take blood, will reduce the need for repeated injections.
What happens when the line is inserted?
- The line will be placed by one of the nurses in the Oncology Unit.
- You will be given the opportunity to discuss the procedure and ask any questions you may have. You will then be asked to sign a consent form.
- The nurse will locate your vein using an ultrasound scanner and will inject a small amount of local anaesthetic to numb the insertion site. This may cause a small amount of discomfort for a few moments only. A needle and “introducer” are then inserted, through which the PICC is threaded and secured in place.
- The ultrasound equipment used to locate the vein also uses an ECG trace to ensure that the line is in the correct position. Occasionally it is necessary to have a chest X-ray instead.
- A nurse will apply a dressing over the line entry site, which will need to be changed the next day.
- The whole process will take approximately two hours.
- You may prefer to be accompanied by a relative or friend as driving may be difficult initially, as your arm may be a little sore.
- Please contact us if you require hospital transport.
Caring for your line
You may feel discomfort around the entry site for the first few days following insertion. You may find it helpful to take a pain relief tablet such as Paracetamol. Placing a warm flannel or covered hot water bottle around the top of your arm for twenty minutes every four hours for the first four days may be beneficial, as it will help to prevent your veins becoming irritated by the line.
If the pain is severe or your arm becomes red, hot or inflamed, please contact the Oncology Unit. You must also tell us of any leaking or swelling around the line of entry. If you develop a raised temperature above 38 degrees celsius, you may be developing an infection and should seek medical advice immediately.
Your PICC line will need to be flushed with saline solution weekly. This may be done at the Oncology Unit or by a district nurse.
Ensure no sharp instruments eg. scissors are used near the line.
Living with your line
- If you and your partner would like to learn how to look after your line, we will be happy to teach you.
- Provided you have no problems, you may carry on with your normal day-to-day activities, such as work and driving.
- The nurse will advise you of the best way to bath or shower, as the line must not be immersed in water.
- Swimming is not advisable. Sports such as tennis, golf or vigorous gym exercises are discouraged, because of the risk of the PICC line being dislodged. However, gentle exercise of the arm is advised to reduce the risk of a blood clot.
How will my line be removed?
When treatment is completed, your line will be removed by one of the nurses in the OncologyUnit. We will do this by gently pulling the tube back through the entry site on your arm. Normally this is not painful, but sometimes may be slightly uncomfortable. We do not need to numb the area for this procedure. A dry dressing will be applied which you may remove after 48 hours.
Please feel free to contact us with any other questions or concerns you may have. We are here to help.
The Oncology Unit is situated on Level 3 of Yeovil Hospital and is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm.
01935 384 873
01935 384 553
Out of hours, please call the Beacon Ward at Musgrove Park Hospital for advice
01823 342 436
This information has been compiled by Maria Ormesher in conjunction with the Haematology/Oncology Day Unit, Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, information booklet on PICC lines