PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line

Key points about PICC lines

  • A PICC line is a thin line through which medicines or liquid nutrition can be delivered to your body.
  • In general, PICC lines don’t need a lot of care, but it’s important to keep your PICC line dressing clean and dry.
  • Find out about it and when to seek help for unusual symptoms.
blue unaunahi tile generic
Print this page

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC), also called a PICC line, is a long, thin line through which medicines or liquid nutrition can be delivered to your body. PICC lines are sometimes called central lines or CVAD (central venous access devices).

The PICC line is 
inserted through a vein in your arm and passed through to the larger veins near your heart. This procedure is done in hospital and you will be given an anaesthetic so you won't feel the procedure. You may have some mild discomfort for a few days after.

Sometimes the line is divided into 2 or 3 lines. This allows you to have different treatments at the same time.

Image credits: PICC line (Macmillan, UK)

A PICC line can be used to give you treatments such as:

  • chemotherapy
  • blood transfusions
  • antibiotics
  • intravenous (IV) fluids
  • liquid food if you are not able to eat.

It can also be used to take samples of your blood for testing.

You can go home with the PICC line in. It can be left in for weeks or months. If you need long term treatment, the line can stay in for up to a year.

A PICC line can only be put in by a specialist nurse or doctor in hospital. Before the line is put in, an anaesthetic injection will be given to numb the area. The whole procedure is painless. Your health care team will use ultrasound scans to help them find the safest place to put the line in. The ultrasound uses sound-waves to produce a picture of the veins in your arm. You will then have a chest x-ray to check that the end of the tube is in the right place.

This animated video shows you how a PICC line is put in.

In general, PICC lines don’t need a lot of care, but it’s important to keep your PICC line dressing clean and dry. You should cover the dressing with a waterproof dressing when you shower. Avoid activities where the line would be submerged in water, eg, swimming or bathing. Your district nurse will change your waterproof dressing regularly.

Important things to look out for

Contact your nurse or doctor urgently if you notice any of the following.

  • Redness, tenderness or bleeding where the PICC line was inserted or in your arm, neck or chest area
  • Pain, redness and swelling around the line.
  • Rashes or any allergic reaction.
  • If there is ooze under your dressing.
  • Fever (temperature of 38ºC or higher), feeling hot/cold.
  • Blocked IV line.

Continuing physical activity during your treatment is good for your general wellbeing. Things to avoid include:

  • exercise or activities where you repeatedly move your arm, eg, swinging your arm in tennis, golf
  • water sports or water activities as you need to keep the dressing dry
  • pulling on your PICC
  • getting your PICC dressing wet
  • using sharp objects near your PICC
  • heavy lifting or repetitive movement (such as vacuuming or mopping) with the arm that has your PICC line in.

Your PICC can stay in as long as it is needed. This can be weeks, months or longer. When you no longer need your PICC, your nurse will take it out. This is simple and quick. A dressing is placed on your upper arm for 1-2 days until the skin is healed.

The home IV antibiotic team will give you a list of people you can contact if you have any problems with your PICC line. In an emergency, you can also contact your GP or Healthline on 0800 611 116.

Free helplines

Healthline logo

Text 1737 Helpline logo

Logo with link to Māori Pharmacists website

Credits: Healthify He Puna Waiora editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Page last updated: