Some patients need a peripherally inserted central catheter or PICC line in order to obtain medication or nutrition into the vein. It is placed into the arm and then threaded into a major vein where it may be left in place for several months. A PICC line is often safer and easier to place than a typical central line that is inserted into a vein in the neck area. Like all catheters placed into a vein, complications due to PICC lines can occur.
An arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat, can happen if the PICC line goes to the wrong area during insertion, says California Pacific Medical Center. It can also happen if the catheter becomes loose at the dressing site and inches further than it should go into one of the veins.
A blood clot, also called a venous thrombosis, can occur as the result of the PICC line or the device used to guide the catheter into place, states the California Pacific Medical Center. This clot can interfere with medication and fluid getting into the bloodstream. When a blood clot is found, the PICC line must be removed and anticoagulant medication initiated for one to two months.
Occasionally, a patient with a PICC line will develop an infection at the site of the catheter insertion or in the bloodstream. Vascular Access Management says that while an infection at the insertion site may be mild and treatable, a blood infection may be dangerous, requiring an extended period of antibiotics and removal of the line.
The PICC line may become occluded, or blocked, for a reason other than a blood clot. Typical culprits include fibrin, which is a blood protein, or a component of the drug being given via the catheter, says Vascular Access Management. This type of occlusion can usually be cleared without removal of the line.
The vein may become irritated and inflamed, a condition known as phlebitis. Vascular Access Management explains that this often occurs due to one of the chemicals used during insertion or the mechanics involved in inserting and keeping the PICC line in place. This can often be treated without the need to prematurely remove the catheter.
Puncture of Tendon or Nerve
The California Pacific Medical Center explains that a tendon or nerve may become punctured during the insertion procedure. The puncture of a nerve can feel extremely painful and result in permanent nerve damage; however, it rarely occurs due to the specialized training of the personnel who insert PICC lines.
An air embolism occurs when a large amount of air passes through the intravenous line into the blood stream of the patient, says Vascular Access Management. This is considered a medical emergency and the patient is carefully monitored for changes in the heart, lungs or brain.