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Venous Access Devices

Facts on Venous Access Devices

Patient Comments

Venous access devices that can be implanted under the skin were introduced in 1982. They allow medications to be delivered directly into larger veins, are less likely to clot, and can be left in for long periods. Central venous access devices are small, flexible tubes placed in large veins for people who require frequent access to the bloodstream.

  • Central venous access devices are often referred to as venous access ports or catheters, because they allow frequent access to the veins without deep needle sticks.
  • Placement is usually in one of the large veins of the chest or neck, although placement can also be in the groin, if necessary.
  • Venous access devices typically remain in place for long periods: weeks, months, or even longer.

Venous access devices are most often used for the following purposes:

  • Administration of medications - Antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, other IV drugs
  • Administration of fluids and nutritional compounds (hyperalimentation)
  • Transfusion of blood products
  • Multiple blood draws for diagnostic testing

Venous access devices provide several advantages over regular IV lines, which are usually inserted in a small vein in the hand or arm.

  • Venous access devices avoid problems that result over time from administering strong medications through small veins with regular IV lines, namely irritation of the vein and blood clots in the vein.
  • A central venous device also avoids the inflammation and scarring that can occur in a vein after multiple needle sticks.
  • A central access device increases comfort and reduces anxiety for people who require frequent venous access.

During the Venous Access Device Procedure

Central venous access devices are usually inserted in 1 of 3 ways.

  • Catheters are inserted by tunneling under the skin into either the subclavian vein (located beneath the collarbone) or into the internal jugular vein (located in the neck). The part of the catheter where medications are administered or blood is drawn remains outside the skin.
  • Unlike catheters, which exit from the skin, ports are placed completely below the skin. With a port, a raised disk about the size of a quarter or half dollar is felt underneath the skin. Blood is drawn or medication is delivered by placing a tiny needle through the overlying skin into the port or reservoir.
  • Peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines, unlike central catheters and ports, are not inserted directly into the central vein. A PICC line is inserted into a large vein in the arm and advanced forward into the larger subclavian vein.

A surgeon or surgical assistant in a surgical suite usually inserts central catheters and ports. An alternative is placement under the guidance of a special x-ray machine so that the person inserting the line can make sure that the line is placed properly. A PICC line can be put in at bedside, usually by a specially trained nurse.

Peripherally inserted central venous access devices have increasingly replaced traditional surgically placed central catheters. PICC lines usually cause fewer severe complications than central venous access devices.

IV access, whether by temporary traditional IV line, central catheter, port, or peripheral line such as a PICC, is becoming an important part of health care today.

  • Uses for long-term venous access and the decision to have a port or catheter have become increasingly more complex.
  • Individuals being treated using a venous access device should discuss the different choices with the primary care provider or the specialist providing treatment.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/18/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Venous Access Devices:

Venous Access Device - Patient Experience

Do you now or have you ever had a venous access device? Please describe your experience.

Venous Access Device - When to Seek Medical Care

Did you experience complications related to your venous access device? What was the problem and how was it treated?


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Central Venous Access »

The demand for long-term central venous access devices has risen over the past few decades.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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