A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) is a long, thin tube that goes into your body through a vein in your upper arm. The end of this catheter goes into a large vein near your heart.
At home you will need to change the dressing that protects the catheter site. A nurse or technician will show you how to change the dressing. Use the information below to help remind you of the steps.
What to Expect at Home
The PICC carries nutrients and medicines into your body. It may also be used to draw blood when you need to have blood tests.
A dressing is a special bandage that blocks germs and keeps your catheter site dry and clean. You should change the dressing about once a week. You need to change it sooner if it becomes loose or gets wet or dirty.
Since a PICC is placed in one of your arms and you need two hands to change the dressing, it is best to have someone help you with the dressing change. Your nurse will teach you how your dressing should be changed. Have the person who helps you also watch and listen to the nurse's or technician's instructions.
Your health care provider will give you a prescription for the supplies you need. You can buy these items at a medical supply store. It helps to know the name of your catheter and what company makes it. Write this information down and keep it handy.
Changing Your Dressings
The information below outlines the steps for changing your dressing. Follow any additional instructions your provider gives you.
To change the dressing, you need:
- Sterile gloves
- A face mask
- Cleaning solution (such as chlorhexidine) in a single-use small applicator
- Special sponges or wipes that contain a cleaning agent, such as chlorhexidine
- A special patch called a Biopatch
- A clear barrier bandage, such as Tegaderm or Covaderm
- Three pieces of 1-inch (2.5 centimeters) wide tape, 4 inches (10 centimeters) long (with 1 of the pieces torn in half, lengthwise.)
If you have been prescribed a dressing change kit, follow the instructions for using the supplies in your kit.
Prepare to change your dressing in a sterile (very clean) way:
- Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
- Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.
- Set up the supplies on a clean surface, on a new paper towel.
Remove the dressing and check your skin:
- Put on the face mask and a pair of sterile gloves.
- Gently peel off the old dressing and Biopatch. Do not pull or touch the catheter where it comes out of your arm.
- Throw away the old dressing and gloves.
- Wash your hands and put on a new pair of sterile gloves.
- Check your skin for redness, swelling, bleeding, or any other drainage around the catheter.
Clean the area and catheter:
- Use one special wipe to clean the catheter.
- Use the other wipe to clean the catheter, slowly working away from where it comes out of your arm.
- Clean your skin around the site with the sponge and cleaning solution for 30 seconds.
- Let the area air dry.
To place a new dressing:
- Place the new Biopatch over the area where the catheter enters your skin. Keep the grid side up and the white side touching your skin.
- If you have been told to do so, apply a skin prep where the edges of the dressing will be.
- Coil the catheter. (This is not possible with all catheters.)
- Peel the backing from the clear plastic bandage (for example, Tegaderm or Covaderm) and place the bandage over the catheter.
Tape the catheter to secure it:
- Place one piece of the 1-inch (2.5 centimeters) tape over the catheter at the edge of the clear plastic bandage.
- Place another piece of the tape around the catheter in a butterfly pattern.
- Place the third piece of tape over the butterfly pattern.
Throw away the face mask and gloves and wash your hands when done. Write down the date you changed your dressing.
Keep all the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. If instructed, change the caps (ports) at the end of the catheter when you change your dressing and after blood draws.
It is usually OK to take showers and baths several days after your catheter is put in place. Ask your provider how long to wait. When you do shower or bathe, make sure the dressing is secure and your catheter site stays dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in a bathtub.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you have:
- Bleeding, redness, or swelling at the site
- Fever or chills
- Hard time breathing
- Leaking from the catheter, or the catheter is cut or cracked
- Pain or swelling near the catheter site, or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
- Trouble flushing your catheter or changing your dressing
Also contact your provider if your catheter:
- Is coming out of your arm
- Seems blocked
PICC - dressing change
Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M. Central vascular access devices. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2016:chap 29.
Review Date 10/13/2023
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.