Central Venous Line or Catheter

What is a central venous catheter?

A central venous catheter is a special IV line that is inserted into a large vein in the body. Several veins are used for central venous catheters including those located in the shoulder (subclavian vein), neck (jugular vein), and groin (femoral vein). In some patients, a central venous catheter may be inserted into the elbow vein (anticubital vein) and advanced into the subclavian vein. These special IVs are used when the patient either does not have adequate veins in the arms or needs special medications and/or nutrition that cannot be given through the smaller arm veins.

Do central venous catheters hurt?

Yes, when they are inserted. The doctor numbs the area with an anesthetic before placing the catheter. Once it is in place, it usually does not hurt. Central venous catheters in the shoulder or neck veins can occasionally cause the lung to collapse. After a neck, shoulder or elbow central venous catheter is put in, the doctor gets a chest x-ray to make sure that the catheter is in the proper place and that the patient's lung is still inflated.

How long is a central venous catheter used?

The amount of time that a central venous catheter remains in a patient varies and may depend upon the patient's condition. The ICU staff monitors the catheter closely and removes it when it is no longer needed. Occasionally, the catheter may need to be replaced.

Are there any potential complicatons associated with central venous catheters?

Bleeding and infection are complications associated with IV catheters. As previously mentioned, collapse of a lung is a rare complication of central venous catheters. If this occurs, a chest tube (thoracostomy tube) may be required to re-expand the lung.