What you can expect
The procedure to insert the PICC line takes about an hour and can be done as an outpatient procedure, meaning it won't require a hospital stay. It's usually done in a procedure room that's equipped with imaging technology, such as X-ray machines, to help guide the procedure. PICC line insertion can be done by a nurse, doctor or other trained medical provider.
If you're staying in the hospital, the procedure might be done in your hospital room.
During PICC line insertion
During the PICC line insertion you'll lie down on your back with your arm extended to your side. You'll be awake during the procedure, but numbing medicine will be used to minimize discomfort.
A PICC line is usually inserted in a vein in your upper arm, above your elbow. Which arm is used depends on your particular situation, but usually the nondominant arm is used.
The doctor or nurse may use an ultrasound machine to assess the veins in your arm and make sure they're healthy enough to use for the PICC line. You might have a cuff tightened around your arm so that your veins stand out for inspection.
Once a suitable vein is identified in your arm, the skin around the area is cleaned and prepared. Numbing medicine is injected into the skin to minimize pain.
To place the PICC line, a needle is inserted through your skin and into the vein in your arm. Ultrasound or an X-ray might be used to confirm the placement. A small incision is made in the vein so that a thin, hollow tube (catheter) can be inserted.
Once the catheter is in your arm, it's carefully advanced along the vein. The catheter continues up your arm and toward your heart.
When the catheter reaches the right location, you might have an X-ray to verify the catheter is in place. If the procedure is being done in your hospital room, the doctor or nurse may use a heart-monitoring device to determine that the catheter has reached the correct location. You might have an X-ray later.
The other end of the catheter will stick out of your arm. A cap is placed over the end of the catheter to keep it free of germs. It may be taped down so it won't get in the way of your daily activities.
After PICC line insertion
After a PICC line insertion, there may be some tenderness in the area where the catheter enters your arm. It should go away within a few days.
As you adjust to life with a PICC line, you'll need to consider:
- PICC line protection. Your doctor may recommend specific ways to protect the arm with the PICC line. For instance, don't lift heavy objects and don't have blood pressure readings taken on the affected arm. Your doctor might recommend avoiding jarring activities with your arm, such as throwing a ball. Avoid submerging the PICC line in water, such as might happen with swimming or using a hot tub.
- PICC line care. A nurse or other provider will show you how to care for your PICC line. This might involve checking the area daily for signs of infection and flushing the line with solution weekly to keep it clear from clogs. It's easier if you have someone to help you with PICC line care. If you need help, you might consider hiring a home health care provider.
- PICC line covers. You'll need to cover your PICC line when you take a shower, as the area shouldn't get wet. Your doctor or nurse might provide a cover or you can buy one at a drugstore. Other PICC line covers are available for daily use to protect the area or make it less obvious to other people.