An umbilical venous catheter (UVC) is a tube used to administer intravenous treatment to a newborn through the umbilical stump following birth. A UVC is commonly used when the introduction of a traditional intravenous port elsewhere in the body is not an option. As with any invasive procedure, there are risks associated with its use, including infection and excessive bleeding.
Infants may receive an umbilical venous catheter in several situations. Premature babies and those with health conditions affecting blood pressure, digestion and waste removal are often candidates for UVC placement. The port functions as a point through which blood transfusions, nutrition and medications may be given. It may also be used as a monitoring device for blood pressure and other vital signs.
Used on a temporary basis, usually during the first two weeks of life, the umbilical venous catheter is positioned just over the umbilical stump. Its placement is generally conducted with imaging technology, such as X-ray, to ensure proper positioning over one of the two main arteries in the umbilical region. The use of imaging technology also helps reduce the risk of perforation to surrounding organs and veins.
During catheter placement, the infant is laid on his or her back and the bellybutton area is sanitized. After the appropriate artery is located, an incision is made to introduce the catheter. Once the placement of the catheter is verified to be correct, usually with X-ray, stitches are made around the incision to secure the catheter in place. To further ensure the catheter is secure, tape may be used to help hold it in place.
Umbilical venous catheter placement does carry some risk for complication. Infection and excessive bleeding are among the most common risks. It is possible for the catheter to go in too far and puncture nearby organs, including the liver, and blood vessels. The introduction of a catheter may also cause venous and muscular spasms, air embolism and cyanosis, or a lack of oxygen in the blood. Additionally, there is a chance blood clots may form around the incision site, the heart may skip out of rhythm and blood sugar may drop.
Once the infant no longer needs the catheter or if complication develops, it will likely be removed by the physician who performed the original procedure. Complications, including infection and blockage within the catheter, are generally the only circumstances under which the catheter may be removed prematurely. Infants who are taken off intravenous medications or no longer need transfusions may also have their umbilical venous catheter removed. Those whose catheter was placed due to unregulated high blood pressure may have the catheter taken out once blood pressure is under control.