By Ryan MacArthur |

Quick read:

There are several types of vascular access devices, including a peripheral IV, central line, or peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC). Peripheral IVs are sometimes referred to as the “standard line,” while central lines or PICC lines are more frequently used for longer-term IV therapy or treatment. It’s important to know the difference between central lines and PICC lines, and which may be the best option for you.

Full story:

For most minor issues, healthcare providers use a vein in the patient’s arm or hand to administer intravenous (IV) therapy. However, there are several different types of IVs that a patient may receive, from a standard Peripheral IV to the more complex central line or Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) line.

Patients who require long-term IV therapy or have veins that are more difficult to reach may require either a central line or a PICC line. It’s important to understand the difference between central lines and PICC lines, and the corresponding benefits and risks of each option.

What is a Central Line?

Healthcare providers typically use central lines, like ports, for patients who require long-term care. A doctor places the line into a large vein above the patient’s heart and uses an X-ray or other imaging methods to ensure the line is in the correct position.

Central lines can administer chemotherapy drugs, various medications, and fluids while also providing a method to quickly and painlessly draw blood. They are also useful for situations like a severe injury that limits access to the arm or hand for IV placement.

When is a Central Line Used?

Patients normally receive a central line for extended treatments like kidney dialysis or long-term drug therapy. Central lines can also help with monitoring central venous pressure during major surgical procedures or after a patient loses a significant amount of blood after trauma or illness.

Central line Pros

No needle pokes
Mitigated risk of IV failure

Central line Cons

More expensive than a PIV
Risk of Central Line Associated Blood Stream Infections

What is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC)?

PICC lines offer another way to deliver IV therapy that allows healthcare providers to draw blood and deliver various medications for extended periods of time. A doctor or nurse places the line into a vein near the elbow and threads the line until it enters a larger vein within the patient’s chest. 

Similar to a central line, the patient receives an X-ray to make sure the line is in the right position. One key difference between central lines and PICC lines is PICC lines are considered less invasive and are (relatively) easier to place compared to a central line.

When is a PICC line Used?

Patients requiring chemotherapy, long-term IV therapy, or those needing frequent blood sampling typically receive a PICC Line.

PICC line Pros

Can be used at home
Low risk of irritation and blood vessel damage
Relatively painless to place

PICC line Cons

Bathing and swimming become very difficult
Must pay extra attention to having good hygiene
Issues like infection, blood clots, or air in the PICC line can cause serious problems

Learn more about the different types of IVs here.






PICC line vs. Central line

Advanced Treatment: Chemotherapy Ports

Central Venous Catheters Overview –

Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) –

Pediatric Care Outpatient Information –

Infusion Nursing –

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