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Peripherally inserted central catheter - flushing

Alternate Names

PICC - flushing

What to Expect at Home

You have a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC). This is a tube that goes into a vein in your arm. It will help carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It will also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

These catheters are used when people need intravenous (IV) medical treatment or routine blood drawing over a long period of time.

You will need to rinse out your catheter after every use. This is called "flushing." Sometimes you will also need to flush it between uses.

After some practice, flushing your catheter will get easier. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.

  • Your doctor will give you a prescription for the supplies you will need.
  • You can buy these at a medical supply store. It will be helpful to know the name of your catheter and what company made it. Write this information down, and keep it handy.

How to Flush Your Catheter

To flush your catheter, you will need:

  • Clean paper towels
  • Saline syringes (clear), and maybe heparin syringes (yellow)
  • Alcohol or chlorhexidine wipes
  • Sterile gloves
  • “Sharps” container. This is a special container for used syringes and needles.

Before starting, check the labels on the saline syringes, heparin syringes, or medicine syringes. Make sure it is the right strength and dose. Check the expiration date. If the syringe is not prefilled, draw up the correct amount.

You will flush your catheter in a sterile (very clean) way. This will help protect you from infection. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
  2. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  3. Set up your supplies on a clean surface on a new paper towel.
  4. Put on a pair of sterile gloves.
  5. Remove the cap on the saline syringe and set the cap down on the paper towel. Do NOT let the uncapped end of the syringe touch the paper towel or anything else.
  6. Unclip the clamp on the end of the catheter and wipe the end of the catheter with an alcohol or chlorhexidine wipe.
  7. Screw the saline syringe to the catheter to attach it.
  8. Inject the saline slowly into the catheter by gently pushing on the plunger. Do a little, then stop, then do some more. Inject all the saline into the catheter. Do not force it. Call your doctor if it is not working.
  9. When you are done, unscrew the syringe and put it in your sharps container.
  10. Clean the end of your catheter again with a new wipe.
  11. Put the clamp on the catheter if you are done.

Ask your doctor if you also need to flush your catheter with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that helps prevent blood clots.

Follow these steps to flush your catheter with heparin:

  1. Attach the heparin syringe to your catheter, the same way you attached the saline syringe.
  2. Flush slowly by injecting a little at a time, the same way you did the saline.
  3. Unscrew the heparin syringe from your catheter. Put it in your sharps container.
  4. Clean the end of your catheter with a new alcohol wipe.
  5. Put the clamp back on the catheter.

Other Care

Keep all of the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. It is a good idea to change the caps at the end of your catheter (called the “claves”) when you change your dressing and after blood is drawn.

It is okay to take showers and baths 7 - 10 days after your catheter was put in place. When you do, make sure the dressings are secure and your catheter site is staying dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in the bathtub.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you:

  • Have bleeding, redness or swelling at the site
  • Develop swelling in the arm downstream of where the catheter is
  • Notice leaking, or the catheter is cut or cracked
  • Have pain near the site, or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
  • Have signs of infection (fever, chills)
  • Are short of breath
  • Feel dizzy
  • Are having trouble flushing your catheter or changing your dressings

Also call your doctor if your catheter:

  • Is coming out of your vein
  • Seems blocked

Review Date: 12/28/2012
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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