A central catheter is a long, thin tube that is inserted into a large vein. A central catheter is used to deliver medication, nutrition, IV fluids, and chemotherapy.
There are different types of central catheters, including:
Veins in the Arm
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Central catheters are inserted when patients need:
A central catheter is commonly inserted by special types of doctors called interventional radiologists or vascular surgeons. Once the line is in, it can be used for weeks to months.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
You will be given a local anesthetic at the insertion area. Depending on where your central catheter is placed, you may receive a sedative through an IV.
This procedure may be done while you are in the hospital as part of your treatment or in an outpatient setting. If you are already in the hospital for another reason, this procedure is unlikely to extend your stay.
Having a catheter inserted increases your risk of a bloodstream infection. The hospital staff will begin the procedure by following steps to reduce this risk.
The procedure may differ depending on the type of catheter and the insertion site. In general, the staff will:
If you have a port inserted, a small pocket for the port will be created under your skin. The incision will be closed over the pocket, usually with dissolving sutures.
You will be checked for bleeding, drainage, and bruising at the insertion site.
During the procedure, you will not feel any pain because of the anesthetic. There may be mild discomfort at the insertion site after the procedure.
This procedure is most commonly done in a hospital setting because it is needed for your treatment. The length of stay will depend on the reason you need the central catheter. If you are an outpatient receiving treatment through your central catheter, you may be sent home the same day as the procedure.
After the procedure, the staff may provide the following care to help you recover:
There are also steps that you can take to reduce your risk of infection:
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Central venous catheter. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 25, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.
FAQs: Catheter-associated bloodstream infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/hai/pdfs/bsi/BSI_tagged.pdf. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Vascular access procedures. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=vasc_access. Updated August 5, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.
6/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.e8.
Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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