Adjusting to Life with a PICC Line

You may be wondering what you might have to do differently when you have a PICC line but the good thing is you can still do most things with ease! A PICC line should not hinder you from the normal activities you enjoy. It takes a lot of getting used to, but it is worth it! 

Your arm may feel very numb, sore, and swollen for the first few days. The swelling might even last a week or so but don’t worry that’s normal! 

If it is sore you can try these tips:

  • Apply a warm pack to the PICC line area for 30 minutes, every 2 hours for the first 24 hours.

  • Take ibuprofen. Three times a day with meals for the first 3 days or as directed by your doctor. This will help prevent inflammation and soreness.

When living with a PICC line, there are some things you do need to be careful around, like any activities that involve arm movement. This is because there is great risk your PICC line can be dislocated. You should also avoid any sort of contact sport like football. 

This also includes:

  • Any heavy lifting over 5 to 10 pounds must be avoided.
  • Do not carry heavy backpacks or bags.
  • Keep away from sharp objects.
  • Keep your pets away from your PICC lines.

The line can remain in place for 6 - 8 months, meaning you can have it throughout treatment, limiting any stress or pain from needles. During this time the line will need to be cleaned every week to lower the risk of any infections. This is done by removing the plaster and using a wipe to clean around the tube exit area. After this they will flush out the tube to make sure the inside isn't clogged. 

This can be a very odd feeling. For me it felt like cold water running through my veins. It may not feel nice but it doesn't take long! Blood samples can also be taken through the PICC line and reduces the need for multiple needle punctures in the arm. 

It is extremely important to keep your PICC line dry to avoid any of those awful infections. If your PICC line does get wet, immediately try to dry the area and call your doctor to schedule an emergency dressing change. The sooner your dressing is changed, the lower the risk of infection.

Tips when bathing:

  • You can have a bath or shower as normal but you must keep your line dry. A waterproof cast cover will be given to you by your doctor. 
  • Do not allow the PICC line to be submerged under water even if protected by a cover.
  • Hot steamy showers may compromise the adhesive on the water proof dressing. Warm showers are preferable.
  • Keep the dressing (or bandage) clean, dry, and secured to the skin. If it gets wet or torn, change it right away.  Do not put lotions or ointments under the dressing.

When your line is fitted a nurse or other provider will show you how to care for it. This might involve checking the area daily for signs of infections and what to avoid. If you have any of these signs or symptoms below, call your doctor. You could have an infection.

  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Leakage
  • Swelling
  • Bleeding

Don’t have any of the following on the arm where your PICC line is placed:

  • Needle sticks (such as for blood draws or an IV line)
  • Blood pressure measurements
  • Tight clothing or tourniquets

For more help read - 'How a PICC Line is Fitted'