Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC): Care Instructions

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PICC line entering vein in arm above bend in elbow, ending near the heart


A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is a soft, flexible tube that runs under your skin from a vein in your arm to a large vein near your heart. One end of the catheter stays outside your body. It is a type of central vascular access device, or central line. You may have it for weeks or months.

A PICC is used to give you medicine, blood products, nutrients, or fluids. A PICC makes doing these things more comfortable for you because they are put directly into the catheter. So you will not be stuck with a needle every time. A PICC may be used to draw blood for tests only if another vein, such as in the hand or arm, can't be used. The end of the PICC sometimes has two or three openings so that you can get more than one type of fluid or medicine at a time.

Your doctor may give you medicine to make you feel relaxed. You may feel a little pain when your doctor numbs your arm. Your doctor will then thread the catheter up a vein in your arm to a larger vein. You will not feel any pain. The doctor may use stitches or other devices to hold the catheter in place where it exits your arm.

After the procedure, the site may be sore for a day or two.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not wear jewelry, such as necklaces, that can catch on the catheter.
  • If the catheter breaks, follow the instructions your doctor gave you. If you have no instructions, clamp or tie off the catheter. Then see a doctor as soon as possible.
  • To help prevent infection, take a shower instead of a bath. Do not go swimming with the catheter.
  • Try to keep the area dry. When you shower, cover the area with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap.
  • Never touch the open end of the catheter if the cap is off.
  • Never use scissors, knives, pins, or other sharp objects near the catheter or other tubing.
  • If your catheter has a clamp, keep it clamped when you are not using it.
  • Fasten or tape the catheter to your body to prevent pulling or dangling.
  • Avoid clothing that rubs or pulls on your catheter.
  • Avoid bending or crimping your catheter.
  • Always wash your hands before you touch your catheter.
  • Wear loose clothing over the catheter for the first 10 to 14 days. When getting dressed, be careful not to pull on the catheter.

How to change the dressing

Since the PICC is in one of your arms, you won't be able to change the dressing on your own. You'll need someone to help you change the dressing using the same instructions that your doctor or nurse gave you.

Your PICC dressing should be changed at least once a week. If the dressing gets loose, wet, or dirty, it must be changed more often to prevent infection. Your doctor may also give you instructions for when to change the dressing.

Be sure you have all your supplies ready. These include medical tape, a surgical mask, sterile gloves, and your dressing kit. The names and brands of the items will vary. Your doctor or nurse may give you specific instructions for changing the dressing.

Here are basic tips for how to change the dressing.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.

    Do this for 15 seconds. Dry them with paper towels.

  2. Put on the surgical mask.
  3. Loosen and remove your old dressing.

    Peel it toward the PICC, not away from it. You may need to use an adhesive remover if it doesn't come off easily.

  4. Look at the site carefully for redness, swelling, drainage, tenderness, or warmth.

    If you notice any of these, call your doctor.

  5. Wash your hands again.
  6. Open your dressing kit, and put on the sterile gloves.
  7. Clean the site with the supplies in the dressing kit.
  8. Use the dressing that your doctor gave you, and place it over the site.
  9. Tape the PICC tubing to your skin.

    Make sure it doesn't dangle or pull.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast or uneven pulse.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus or blood draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have swelling in your face, chest, neck, or arm on the side where the catheter is.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as bulging veins near the catheter.
  • Your catheter is leaking, cracked, or clogged.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your catheter.
  • Your catheter is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you pull on the catheter.
  • You have chest pain or shortness of breath.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any concerns about your catheter.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.