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Venous Access Devices (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for a Venous Access Device

Patient Comments

Call or visit a health care provider right away if a central venous access device is inserted and any of the following symptoms occur:

  • Swelling of an arm or the area around the device
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain
  • Redness, pain, or tenderness around the device
  • Redness or tenderness along the vein in the upper arm (especially if it is a PICC line)
  • Unexplained fever
  • Device malfunction
  • Pain with injection/infusion into the device
  • Difficulties with concentration, memory, reasoning, or staying awake (mental status changes)
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss

Go directly to the nearest hospital emergency department in any of the following circumstances:

  • Inability to reach the health care provider
  • Symptoms worsening or new symptoms appearing

In particular, shortness of breath, chest pain, or sudden changes in mental status may indicate a dire emergency, and the person with the venous access device should go to an emergency department immediately.

Exams and Tests for Venous Access Device Complications

If a central venous access device is present, the health care provider, whether a primary care provider, specialist, or emergency provider, will have a heightened awareness of the problems that can occur. The provider will ask about symptoms and perform a physical examination.

Some of the following tests may be performed:

  • Chest X-ray - Evaluates for improper device placement or complications such as pneumothorax or hemothorax
  • Blood draw - Checks for infection
  • Ultrasound exam of the arm vein - Performed if a clot is suspected
  • Nuclear imaging study - Confirms that the device is properly placed and still working and/or excludes blood clots in the lungs

Venous Access Device Follow-up

The venous access device can be removed when it is no longer needed, such as when the medical problem for which it was inserted has resolved.

Proper home care of a venous access device involves regular irrigation with a drug called heparin to prevent clotting (except with Groshong-type catheters) and attention to a sterile technique to keep the device free of infection.

  • The person with the venous access device and a caregiver will be shown how to care for the device.
  • Supplies will be provided or an explanation will be given for how to obtain supplies.
  • Instructions will be provided in other ways to prevent problems with the device.
  • In some cases, a home health agency can bring the supplies needed and provide support as the individual learns how the care for the device.

Follow any instructions given by the health care provider or nurse to care for a venous access device at home.

  • Avoid heavy exertion or strenuous activity immediately after device placement.
  • Change the bandages as directed.
  • Inject heparin to keep the device working as directed.
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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