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My Child Needs a PICC: A Guide for Parents

It can feel overwhelming when your child needs medical treatment, especially when it involves a hospital stay where your child’s health care provider recommends using a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter). Here’s what to know.

What is a PICC Line?

PICCs offer an effective intermediate-term intravenous (IV) access solution, enabling your child to receive necessary medicine, fluids, blood or nutrition. It also can be used to draw blood.

“A PICC is essentially a long IV line or thin tube usually inserted into your child’s arm or leg,” said David Aria, MD, MBA, a pediatric interventional radiologist with Banner – University Medical Center. 

“Although the tube usually enters an arm or leg vein, it travels through the veins in your chest towards the heart with the far end sitting in a larger vein close to the heart,” he said. “The part located outside your body on the skin has small white wings and a white tube with a plastic clamp on it, looking very similar to an IV.”

Read on to understand why your child may need a PICC, its benefits, potential risks and complications, placement process, proper care and maintenance and living with a PICC.

Why is a PICC used instead of a regular IV?

There are several situations where your child may require a PICC.

“A PICC is often used when the expected treatment your child requires continues for an extended period,” Dr. Aria said. “It lowers the number of needle sticks your child may need.”

A PICC can help your child with the following:

  • Chemotherapy or other infusion therapies. PICCs provide a reliable access point for chemotherapy or other infusion therapies, like blood transfusions, reducing discomfort and potential complications.
  • Long-term antibiotic treatment. Certain infections may need long-term antibiotic therapy, and a PICC allows easy administration.
  • Nutritional support. A PICC can deliver essential nutrients directly into the bloodstream if your child has difficulty eating or requires specialized nutrition.

What are the benefits of a PICC?

Having a PICC means your child will not need as many needle sticks throughout their treatment, reducing their pain and anxiety.

PICCs provide a stable and easy route for medications, fluids and nutrition, as well as blood draws for blood tests. It also means your child can receive necessary treatments at home, minimizing hospital visits and allowing them to participate in regular activities.

What are the risks and complications of a PICC?

Most of the time, the risks and complications are similar to those of placing an IV.

However, if problems do happen, they may occur due to:

  • An infection. The risk of infection is possible with any procedure, but proper care and maintenance can significantly reduce your child’s risk.
  • Thrombosis. Blood clot formation can occur around the PICC line, but your child’s health care team takes precautions to minimize this risk.
  • Dislodgment or breakage. Although rare, PICCs can accidentally dislodge or break. If this happens, immediately cover the PICC with a sterile dressing and tell your child’s health care team.

How is a PICC placed? Will it hurt?

The procedure is most often performed while your young child is asleep under general anesthesia but is also performed wide awake in older children.

Your child may go to the operating room or interventional radiology to have the catheter placed. The procedure typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes. It usually doesn’t hurt.

After placement, the insertion point (where the catheter was inserted in the arm or leg) may be a little sore and pain relief can be given.

To insert the line, the health care provider will clean and numb the area and insert the PICC into the vein in the arm or leg.

“We use fluoroscopy and ultrasound to guide where the line goes,” Dr. Aria said. “We thread it up to a large vein near the heart and check with a low dose chest X-ray for correct placement.”

Then your child’s provider will place a sterile dressing (bandage) over the PICC on the skin surface.

How can I help my child at home?

Your child can go home with the PICC still in if they require it. Your child’s line will need special care at home to prevent infection and keep it working well.

This can naturally feel scary for a parent, but your child’s care team will walk you through every step to ensure you are comfortable and have all the necessary supplies. You can also request additional help when you first get home.

Your child’s health care team will go over some of the following before you return home:

  • Care and maintenance. Regular dressing changes, flushing the line with saline, giving medicine and periodic line assessments to help prevent infections and maintain proper function.
  • Daily activities. Your child can still participate in most activities with a PICC, but certain precautions may be necessary to protect the line. Tell your child’s school and teachers about the line so they can help support your child during treatment.
  • Emotional support. Encouraging open communication and addressing your child's concerns or anxieties can help them adapt to life with a PICC.
  • Follow-up care. Regular check-ups with the health care team are essential to monitor the PICC's condition and ensure your child's well-being.


While the prospect of your child requiring a PICC may seem daunting, it is essential to understand the reasons, benefits and potential risks associated with this medical intervention.

PICCs offer a safe and effective means of delivering necessary treatments and medications to children over an extended period. By being well-informed and actively participating in your child's care, you can help ensure their comfort, well-being and successful treatment outcomes.

Always consult with your child's health care team for specific guidance tailored to your child's unique needs and circumstances.

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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