Peripherally inserted central catheter - flushing
PICC - flushing
What to Expect at Home
You have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC). This is a tube that goes into a vein in your arm. It will help carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It will also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.
These catheters are used when people need intravenous (IV) medical treatment or routine blood drawing over a long period of time.
You will need to rinse out your catheter after every use. This is called "flushing." Sometimes you will also need to flush it between uses.
After some practice, flushing your catheter will get easier. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.
- Your doctor will give you a prescription for the supplies you will need.
- You can buy these at a medical supply store. It will be helpful to know the name of your catheter and what company made it. Write this information down, and keep it handy.
How to Flush Your Catheter
To flush your catheter, you will need:
- Clean paper towels
- Saline syringes (clear), and maybe heparin syringes (yellow)
- Alcohol or chlorhexidine wipes
- Sterile gloves
- “Sharps” container. This is a special container for used syringes and needles.
Before starting, check the labels on the saline syringes, heparin syringes, or medicine syringes. Make sure it is the right strength and dose. Check the expiration date. If the syringe is not prefilled, draw up the correct amount.
You will flush your catheter in a sterile (very clean) way. This will help protect you from infection. Follow these guidelines:
Ask your doctor if you also need to flush your catheter with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that helps prevent blood clots.
Follow these steps to flush your catheter with heparin:
Keep all of the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. It is a good idea to change the caps at the end of your catheter (called the “claves”) when you change your dressing and after blood is drawn.
It is okay to take showers and baths 7 - 10 days after your catheter was put in place. When you do, make sure the dressings are secure and your catheter site is staying dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in the bathtub.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor or nurse if you:
- Have bleeding, redness or swelling at the site
- Develop swelling in the arm downstream of where the catheter is
- Notice leaking, or the catheter is cut or cracked
- Have pain near the site, or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
- Have signs of infection (fever, chills)
- Are short of breath
- Feel dizzy
- Are having trouble flushing your catheter or changing your dressings
Also call your doctor if your catheter:
- Is coming out of your vein
- Seems blocked
Last reviewed 12/28/2012 by Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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