A central catheter is a long, thin tube that is inserted into a large vein. A central catheter is used to deliver medication, nutrition, IV fluids, and chemotherapy.

There are different types of central catheters, including:

  • Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line)—The catheter is threaded through a vein in the arm until it reaches the larger vein close to the heart.
  • Non-tunneled central catheter—It is inserted in a large vein in the neck or leg; the tube end is outside of the skin.
  • Tunneled central catheter—It is inserted in the neck vein and tunneled under the skin. The end of the catheter is sticking out from under the skin, usually below the collarbone.
  • Port catheter—It is inserted in a shoulder or neck vein. The port is under the skin, and the catheter is tunneled into the central vein. The port is accessed by putting a needle through the skin directly into the port.

Veins in the Arm
A peripherally inserted central catheter is threaded through a vein in the arm.
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Central catheters are inserted when patients need:

  • Long-term medication or fluids
  • Chemotherapy
  • Nutrition, but cannot get it through the digestive system
  • Repeated blood draws
  • Blood transfusions
  • IV medications when arm veins are difficult to access
  • Dialysis

A central catheter is commonly inserted by special types of doctors called interventional radiologists or vascular surgeons. Once the line is in, it can be used for weeks to months.