If you’ve been recently diagnosed to require a PICC line, it can be overwhelming. To avoid PICC line complications, knowing how to take care of your PICC line is important. You will need to prioritize things like keeping your PICC line clean and maintaining hygienic dressing changes. Below you’ll learn about some common complications and how to address them.
The first thing to be wary of with your PICC line is the possibility of infection. The area where it goes into the vein is prone to infection, as the incision area gives germs access into your body. Most of the germs that can infect the PICC line come from your skin, so keeping the area around the catheter clean is crucial.
The PICC line will have a dressing over it to protect it from possible contamination from fluid, dirt, and germs. We recommend using a dressing that doesn’t cause any reactions on your skin. This will further help to keep your line clean, especially for people with sensitive skin. Your nurse or doctor will change the dressing for you, which should be done approximately every seven days. You can also wear an antimicrobial PICC Line Cover to help prevent germs and make your skin more comfortable. We’ve compiled a list of premium PICC products that can make it easier to care for your PICC.
To help prevent an infection
- Be sure to practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water and using alcohol-based hand gels.
- Your clinician should also maintain proper hygiene. You should feel comfortable speaking up to your clinician if they are not following proper hand hygiene steps.
- The PICC line should also be kept dry at all times. Find the best ways to take a shower while keeping the dressing dry. If you get the dressing wet, contact your doctor immediately. And lastly, try avoiding touching the line, even after washing your hands.
- Should you see any redness, pain, or swelling near the catheter site or feel any pain or tenderness along the path of the catheter, these could be symptoms of a local infection. See your doctor without delay in such a case. If allowed to persist, this could result in bacteremia, a severe and possibly fatal condition of germs entering the bloodstream.
Dislodging the catheter
One of the more common PICC line complications is displacement. Displacement occurs when the line comes out, breaks, or splits. To prevent this, you should avoid activities that stress the arm or involve a lot of arm movement.
You might want to go easy in the gym and avoid lifting heavy weights. We don’t recommend abandoning exercise, but it should be light and not involve a lot of arm movement. If you’re a student, make sure to avoid carrying heavy backpacks as well.
In severe instances, the catheter may become damaged and even result in a catheter malposition, meaning that the line is no longer going to the intended target. Should this happen, the PICC line will have to be removed and replaced.
Wearing a well-fitting double-layer PICC Line Cover can help keep the catheter secured in place. By creating a pocket for the PICC to rest in between two layers, the external part of the PICC is not exposed, helping to prevent possible dislodgement due to patient movement/activity.
Getting air in the line
PICC lines usually have valves and caps at the end to stop air from coming in. The cap should always be closed when the line isn’t in use to prevent air from getting inside.
Air in the line can cause an air embolism, a potentially serious condition in which air gets into the veins. While it takes a large amount of air (50 ml or more) to cause problems, it’s best to minimize risk. Avoid touching or manipulating the valves on your line to prevent air from getting in.
The most common symptoms of an air embolism are a sudden onset of breathlessness, nausea, and shoulder or chest pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider immediately.
Another PICC line complication is when a blood clot forms in the vein, a condition known as thrombosis. These clots can lead to an inflammation of the veins or phlebitis. If you notice swelling, redness, or tenderness in your arm where the line is inserted, this could be a formation of a blood clot.
Superficial thrombophlebitis, while it sounds quite daunting, isn’t a serious condition and can be resolved with home treatment such as warm compresses and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. However, it can still be painful. Your doctor may give you medication to treat the blood clot. The bigger risk is when the clot occurs in a deep vein, where it may embolize or break off and travel to the lungs.
You can minimize the risk of a blood clot forming by ensuring proper circulation in your arms. If you are sedentary for long periods of time, make it a point to stand up and move around every couple of hours, and keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Living with a PICC line isn’t convenient, but with the right knowledge and a little care, you can go about your normal life with little incident. With proper tools and support you can minimize the risk of PICC line complications, so be sure to talk with your doctor and discover what works best for you.
Got more questions about PICC Lines? Check out our PICC Educational Hub for everything you need to know about PICCs. For more information on caring for your PICC, watch the video below.
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