When Is A PICC Line Necessary?

A peripherally inserted central catheter, or PICC line, is sometimes necessary for certain medical procedures. A PICC line is when a catheter (much like an IV) is put into a large central vein that goes directly to the heart. Medications can then be delivered through this line without having to repeatedly poke the patient or insert a new IV at each doctor's appointment. While they are handy for administering medications, they can increase the possibility of infection, so PICC lines must be monitored closely. 

There are several medical treatments, procedures, and circumstances that may require a PICC line, including but not limited to:

Chemotherapy Treatments

Chemo treatments are sometimes given weekly, monthly, or several days in a row, depending on one's needs. If you have several treatments in a row, your physician may order a PICC line be placed to allow for easy access. PICC lines can make each appointment faster, saving yourself time and the time of the nursing staff. Some cancer patients have portacaths implanted. A portacath is a more permanent form of a PICC line that is surgically implanted beneath the skin and not removed unless absolutely necessary. 

Treatment for Major Infections

If you have a major infection that requires immediate treatment, such as a fungal or bacterial infection, your physician may have a PICC line installed to get you medication as soon as possible. When an infection is so dangerous that there is no time for your body to digest oral medications, a PICC line allows immediate treatments to go straight to the heart. Your heart will then pump antibiotics throughout your bloodstream, potentially saving your life. 

Parenteral Nutrition

Total parenteral nutrition is used when someone is either unable to process nutrients through the digestive system, or they are unable to keep food down. Nutrients can be administered directly through the bloodstream with a PICC line so that the person who has digestive problems can still get the nutrition they require, no matter their circumstances. If you have digestive issues, a PICC line could connect you to life-saving nutrients. 

Most PICC lines will need to be replaced every two to six weeks, so your physician may not recommend using one unless you have a serious need, or have several pending treatments in succession. If you have veins that are hard to access, you may want to talk to your doctor to see if a PICC line is right for you.