A central catheter is a small tube placed in one of the large veins in the body, usually located in the neck, chest, or groin. The central catheter is used to obtain blood for specific lab tests or to administer fluids or medications to the patient. There are several types of catheters available, depending on the reasons for use. Some central catheter types include the PICC line, the tunneled catheter, and the implanted port. The type used depends on the reason for insertion as well as the length of time the catheter will need to be used.
A PICC line, also known as a peripherally inserted central catheter, is a bit different from other types of central catheters, as it is inserted into a vein in the arm. This type of central catheter is often used for long-term therapy, such as chemotherapy or extended antibiotic therapy. While the PICC line can be used for months at a time, it is not generally kept in place for more than 30 days.
A tunneled catheter is inserted into a vein in either the chest, groin, or neck. The medical professional then tunnels the catheter underneath the skin so that it exits just under the skin at a different location. The chest is generally used as the exit site because it is not as easily seen as it would be if it were protruding from the neck. The act of having the catheter pass underneath the skin, instead of sitting on top of the skin, provides more stability and also helps to prevent infection.
An implanted port has a lot of similarities to the tunneled catheter. The primary difference is that there is no exit spot for this type of central catheter. Instead, it is left completely underneath the skin. Medications are introduced into the catheter by being injected into the skin. This method is used primarily when the patient requires long term, in-home care.
A local anesthetic is sometimes applied before a central catheter is inserted. Depending on the location of the catheter and the individual vein used, it is sometimes necessary to use a small ultrasound device in order to find the vein for insertion. If the catheter is placed in the chest, an X-ray is sometimes performed after placement to ensure proper positioning. Maintaining proper sterile technique is of particular importance with a central catheter so that infectious materials are not introduced into the bloodstream.