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Central venous catheter - flushing

Alternate Names

Central venous access device - care; CVAD - care

What to Expect at Home

You have a central venous catheter. This is a tube that goes into a vein in your chest. It will help carry nutrients and medicine into your body. It will also be used to take blood when you need to have blood tests.

These catheters are used when people need medical treatment over a long period of time.

  • You may need antibiotics or other medicines for weeks to months.
  • You may need extra nutrition because your bowels are not working correctly.
  • You may be receiving kidney dialysis.

You will need to make sure the skin where the catheter is placed stays healthy. This will help protect you from infection. You will need to check the skin and change the special bandages (dressings) around the site about once a week. See also: Central venous catheter-dressing change

You will also need to rinse out the catheter after every use. This is called “flushing.” Sometimes you will also need to flush it between uses. A friend, family member, caregiver, or your doctor may be able to help you.

It is okay to take showers and baths 7 to10 days after your catheter was put in place. When you do, make sure the dressings are secure and your catheter site is staying dry. Do not let the catheter site go under water if you are soaking in the bathtub.

Supplies You Will Need

Your doctor will give you a prescription for the supplies you will need. You can buy these at a medical supply store. It will be helpful to know the name of your catheter and what company made it. Write this information down and keep it handy.

To flush your catheter, you will need:

  • Clean paper towels
  • Saline syringes (clear), and maybe heparin syringes (yellow)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Sterile gloves
  • “Sharps” container. This is a special container used for syringes and needles.

How to Flush Your Catheter

You will flush your catheter in a sterile (very clean) way. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands for 30 seconds with soap and water. Be sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails.
  2. Dry with a clean paper towel.
  3. Set up your supplies on a clean surface on a new paper towel.
  4. Put on a pair of sterile gloves.
  5. Remove the cap on the saline syringe and set the cap down on the paper towel. Do not let the uncapped end of the syringe touch the paper towel or anything else.
  6. Unclip the clamp on the end of the catheter and wipe the end of the catheter with an alcohol wipe.
  7. Screw the saline syringe to the catheter to attach it.
  8. Inject the saline slowly into the catheter by gently pushing on the plunger. Do a little, then stop, then do some more. Inject all the saline into the catheter. Do not force it. Call your doctor or nurse if it is not working.
  9. When you are done, unscrew the syringe and put it in your sharps container.
  10. Clean the end of the catheter again with another alcohol wipe.
  11. Put the clamp on the catheter if you are done.

Ask your doctor if you also need to flush your catheter with heparin. Heparin is a medicine that helps prevent blood clots. Follow these steps if you do:

  1. Screw the heparin syringe to your catheter, the same way you attached the saline syringe.
  2. Flush slowly by pushing on the plunger and injecting a little at a time, the same way you did the saline.
  3. Unscrew the heparin syringe from your catheter. Put it in your “sharps” container.
  4. Clean the end of your catheter with a new alcohol wipe.
  5. Put the clamp back on your catheter.

Other Care

Keep all the clamps on your catheter closed at all times. It is a good idea to change the caps at the end of your catheter (called the “claves”) when you change your catheter dressing and after you have blood taken.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor or nurse if you:

  • Are having trouble flushing your catheter
  • Have bleeding, redness, or swelling at the catheter site
  • Notice leaking, or the catheter is cut or cracked
  • Have pain near the site or in your neck, face, chest, or arm
  • Have signs of infection (fever, chills)
  • Are short of breath
  • Feel dizzy

Also call your doctor if your catheter:

  • Is coming out of your vein
  • Seems blocked

Review Date: 12/27/2012
Reviewed By: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Shabir Bhimji MD, PhD, Specializing in General Surgery, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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