2 PICC Line Complications: Blood Clots & Infections

by Ariela Paulsen
Mighty Well | PICCPerfect PICC Line Cover

PICC lines are modern medical devices that are used frequently for patients who are in need of intravenous therapy over a long period. Unlike standard IVs, which can only be used for a short period of time and can cause damage or scarring to the veins after repeated insertions, a PICC line goes in once (with careful insertion) and can remain for as long as 12 months. Nurses and doctors today have a lot of experience with them, but PICC lines still have their own risks. With guidance and proper care, these PICC line complications can be minimized.

We’ve talked about the complications of PICC lines in the past, but today we’ll highlight two of the most common and serious issues – blood clots and infections. Of the two, blood clots are more common, affecting 20% to 40% of patients. Infections are less common, with the risk being approximately 2%. 

Blood clots

The most common risk when having a PICC line is a blood clot. When the PICC line is in use for a prolonged period of time, a clot can occur in the vein around the catheter. This clot, known as a thrombosis, can break off, travel around the body, and get caught in the veins and arteries, causing congestion in the area. This is known as an embolism.

How it happens

  1. The embolism slows down blood flow, causing ischemia – the cutting off of blood to a part of the body.
  2. The result is cyanosis, where oxygen is cut off from the body part, causing a bluish discoloration in the skin. It’s also possible for the thrombosis to travel into the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism, a serious condition that can result in lung collapse and death.

How to prevent it

Fortunately, the majority of blood clots are small – minor ones that are not a cause for concern. Your physician will monitor your PICC line weekly to check for any large blood clots. The actual risk for a serious blood clot is very low, and it’s something a doctor can detect with testing. If a clot is found, the catheter will be removed, and anticoagulant medication will be administered for one to two months to dissolve the blood clot.

What to avoid

One precaution you may want to keep in mind is aspirin therapy. Aspirin interferes with your blood’s clotting action. There are people who have survived a heart attack or stroke due to taking aspirin after feeling the initial symptoms. Ask your doctor about it, but start a regimen only with a doctor’s supervision.

Mighty Well Team holding their arms up to show strength
Mighty Well team members showing off their strength!


Although PICC lines are considered minimally invasive compared to other procedures, such as central venous catheters, any point of insertion into the body through an incision is at risk for infection. Any infections that occur locally at the point of insertion tend to be mild and easily treatable. A more serious systemic infection known as bacteremia, or a blood infection, can occur if the bacteria gets into the bloodstream.

How it happens

Bacteremia is a very serious condition and requires prompt medical attention. You’ll be onset with a sudden fever and chills. If left unchecked, it will spread to the heart and other tissues, which can induce sepsis and lead to septic shock. During septic shock, multiple organs in the body shut down, and blood pressure drops, leading to death.

How to prevent it

Avoiding a blood infection is the biggest concern, but it is usually only a risk when local infections are left alone and not treated. An infection is not likely to occur if the PICC line is kept clean and dry. A thrombosis from a blood clot can also lead to an infection.

Health practitioners today have a lot of experience with PICC line insertion and have protocols in place to minimize the risk of infection, including proper hand hygiene, the use of disinfectants on the skin before insertion, and various sterile barriers. Additionally, health practitioners will provide regular and proper evaluation of the catheter during your visits and maintain the cleanliness of the dressing.

What you can do

The rest of the responsibility lies with the patient. The most important thing is to keep the dressing of the PICC dry. It cannot be wet at any time, including while taking a shower or during a rain shower. Getting a waterproof PICC Line Cover to keep your catheter site safe and secure is a must for minimizing PICC line complications.

Wet dressings are a breeding ground for bacteria and significantly raise the risk of infection. If the dressing gets wet, visit your nurse or physician as soon as possible to have the line replaced. Also, avoid touching the PICC valve or the dressing, as these should only be handled by a medical professional. Check out PICCPerfect® PICC Line Covers here to help you with that.

PICC lines are here to help you

PICC lines are a great convenience and can be a huge help to your recovery process, but understanding the risks and knowing how to mitigate them is a huge part of keeping yourself healthy and safe. Read up on it and listen to your doctor to help prevent any PICC line complications. Watch the video below for more information on caring for your PICC:

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