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Percutaneously inserted central catheter - infants

A percutaneously inserted central catheter (PICC) is a long, very thin, soft plastic tube that is put into a small blood vessel. This article addresses PICCs in babies.

Why is a PICC used?

A PICC is used when a baby needs IV fluids or medicine over a long period of time. Regular IVs only last 1 to 3 days and need to be replaced. A PICC can stay in for 2 to 3 weeks or longer.

PICCs are often used in premature babies who cannot feed because of bowel problems or who need IV medicines for a long time.

How is a PICC placed?

The doctor or nurse will:

  • Give the baby pain medicine
  • Clean the baby's skin with a germ-killing medicine (antiseptic)
  • Make a small surgical cut and place a hollow needle into a small vein in the arm or leg
  • Move the PICC through the needle into a big vein, putting its tip near (but not in) the heart
  • Take an x-ray to place the needle
  • Remove the needle after the catheter is placed

What are the risks of having a PICC placed?

  • The health care team may take several tries to place the PICC. In some cases, the PICC cannot be properly positioned and a different therapy will be needed.
  • There is a small risk of infection. The longer the PICC is in place, the greater the risk.
  • Sometimes the catheter may wear away the blood vessel wall. IV fluid or medication can leak into nearby areas of the body.
  • Very rarely, the PICC can wear away the wall of the heart. This can cause serious bleeding and poor heart function.
  • Very rarely, the catheter may break inside the blood vessel.

Alternative Names

PICC - infants; PQC - infants; Pic line - infants; Per-Q cath - infants

Update Date: 10/29/2013

Updated by: Kimberly G Lee, MD, MSc, IBCLC, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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