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Peripherally inserted central catheter: Insertion information

What is a peripherally inserted central catheter?

A peripherally inserted central catheter is often called a "PICC line." It is a long, very thin, flexible tube that is inserted into one of the large veins above the elbow. This tube is threaded into a large vein that is located near the heart.

The PICC line will be used to give your child IV medicines or fluids. Sometimes it is also used for blood samples. Because the tube is small and flexible, the line usually lasts several weeks to months, which means fewer needle pokes and less pain.

The part of the catheter outside the skin has a plastic end with screw-like threads. An injection cap is on the end of the catheter so that it does not leak or let in air or bacteria. It also allows you to inject medicines or flush solution into the catheter without removing the cap.

The PICC line can be capped off when not in use, so that your child is free to move around.

There are different kinds of PICC lines. Some have just one tube (single lumen), while others have two separate tubes within the same catheter (double lumen). If your child has a double lumen catheter, each tube must be treated separately.

How should I prepare my child?

Use simple words to explain why the catheter is needed and what to expect. Remind your child that the tube means less pain. How much detail you give will depend on the age of your child, and the degree of anxiety about the procedure. If you need help, ask a nurse or child life staff member.

Explain procedures before they are done, especially what your child will see, hear, and feel. Tell your child what is expected ahead of time, such as, "Your job is to hold still while I give you your medicine." This will help make care at home easier for both of you.

How is the PICC line put in?

The PICC line is inserted in a hospital procedure room using a sterile method. Your child's nurse will show you where you can wait while the procedure takes place. Your child may be sedated during the procedure. A numbing medicine is given to ease discomfort where the PICC line is inserted.

Using ultrasound, a special needle is put in a vein above the elbow, and the PICC line is threaded through the vein until it reaches a location near the heart. Once the line is in place, the needle is removed.

A chest X-ray will be taken to make sure the tip of the PICC line is in the correct position.

Your child may have soreness or discomfort where the catheter was put in. Pain medicine will be given as needed. Warm packs may also be applied for comfort.

Preventing infection

PICC catheters are helpful for taking care of your child; however, they can increase the risk of infections when bacteria grow in the catheter and travel to the bloodstream. This is called a Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infection or CLABSI. A CLABSI can be serious and life threatening.

Members of your health care team take steps such as washing their hands, using gloves and monitoring the site to keep infections from happening.

Parents and patients also have a role to play in preventing CLABSIs:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rub. Hand hygiene is required:
    - When you enter and leave your child's room;
    - Before and after you prepare food, eat, or feed your child;
    - Before and after you use the bathroom or change a diaper.
  • Ask visitors to wash their hands when they enter and exit your child's room.
  • Do not allow friends or family to touch the catheter or tubing.
  • Watch your nurses and doctors to make sure they wash their hands before and after handling the PICC. Do not be afraid to remind them to wash their hands!
  • Keep the PICC and other IV tubing out of the diaper area when changing the diaper, and do not allow your child to suck on the catheter or the tubing.

It is very important to prevent infection, which might require removal of the PICC line. Your nurse will show you how to keep your supplies sterile, so no germs will enter the catheter and cause an infection.


This is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, ask your nurse or doctor.

Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Last reviewed 8/2015 ©Copyright

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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