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Central Venous Catheters - Topic Overview

Can complications result from the use of a central venous catheter?

Possible complications from the use of a central venous catheter include:

  • Bleeding, caused by inserting the catheter into the vein. But this is usually mild and will stop by itself.
  • Infection, requiring treatment with antibiotics or removal of the catheter.
  • Blood clots, which can form in blood vessels, especially in the arms.
  • A blocked line. This can happen from a blood clot or from something else getting stuck in the line. Regular flushing of the catheter can help keep the line clear. Preventing infections and making sure the catheter is in place can also help keep the line clear.
  • Kinking of the catheter. A twisted or kinked catheter must be repositioned or replaced.
  • Pain. You may experience pain at the place where the catheter is inserted or where it lies under your skin.
  • Collapsed lung (pneumothorax). The risk of a collapsed lung varies with the skill of the person inserting the catheter and the site of placement. It is most likely to happen during placement of a catheter in the chest, although the risk is small.
  • Shifting of the catheter. A catheter that has moved out of place can sometimes be repositioned. If repositioning does not work, it must be replaced.

How can you care for a central venous catheter at home?

Your nurses will teach you how to take care of your catheter. You will learn how to change the dressing and flush your catheter. Call your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

You can take steps at home to care for your catheter:

  • Always wash your hands before you touch your central line.
  • Try to keep the exit site dry. This can help prevent infection. When you shower, cover the site with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap. Be sure you cover both the exit site and the central line cap(s).
  • Fasten or tape the central line to your body to prevent it from pulling or dangling. Avoid bending or crimping your central line. And wear clothing that doesn't rub or pull on your central line.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have a fast or uneven pulse.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the exit site.
    • Pus or blood draining from the exit site.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have a fever over 100°F (38°C), or you have chills.
  • You have swelling in your face, chest, neck, or arm on the side where the central line is.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as bulging veins near the catheter.
  • Your central line is leaking.
  • You feel resistance when you inject medicine or fluids into your line.
  • Your central line is out of place. This may happen after severe coughing or vomiting, or if you pull on the central line.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any concerns about your line.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 14, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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