Central venous catheters play a crucial role in the management of various medical conditions, enabling healthcare providers to administer medications, fluids, and nutrients directly into the bloodstream. This article will delve into the different types of central venous catheters, including PICC lines, hemodialysis catheters, tunneled and non-tunneled catheters, and ports/port-a-caths. We will also discuss their indications and the role of interventional radiologists in placing these catheters using ultrasound and fluoroscopic image guidance.

Types of Central Venous Catheters

  1. Peripherally Inserted Central Catheters (PICC): A PICC line is a long, thin catheter that is inserted through a peripheral vein, typically in the arm, and advanced until its tip reaches a large central vein near the heart. PICCs are commonly used for long-term intravenous (IV) therapy, such as antibiotics, chemotherapy, or total parenteral nutrition (TPN).
  2. Hemodialysis Catheters: Designed specifically for patients undergoing hemodialysis, these catheters provide reliable access for blood to be removed, filtered, and returned to the body during the dialysis process. They can be placed temporarily or long-term, depending on the patient’s needs.
  3. Tunneled Central Venous Catheters: A tunneled catheter is inserted through a small incision in the chest or neck and then guided under the skin for several inches before entering a central vein. This “tunneling” helps reduce the risk of infection and is commonly used for long-term IV therapies or when other access options are limited.
  4. Non-tunneled Central Venous Catheters: These catheters are inserted directly into a central vein, usually in the neck or chest, without tunneling under the skin. Non-tunneled catheters are typically used for short-term therapies or in emergency situations.
  5. Ports/Port-a-caths: A port, or port-a-cath, is a small, implantable device with a reservoir connected to a catheter. The port is placed under the skin, usually in the chest, and allows for repeated access to the bloodstream without the need for multiple needle sticks. Ports are often used for long-term chemotherapy or other IV therapies.

Indications for Central Venous Catheters

Central venous catheters are indicated for various medical conditions and treatments, including:

  1. Administration of long-term IV medications, such as antibiotics, chemotherapy, or pain medications.
  2. Provision of TPN or other nutritional support.
  3. Hemodialysis and apheresis treatments.
  4. Frequent blood sampling or monitoring of central venous pressure.
  5. Inability to maintain reliable peripheral IV access.

Interventional Radiology Techniques for Catheter Placement

Interventional radiologists play a crucial role in the placement of central venous catheters, utilizing advanced imaging techniques to ensure accurate and safe insertion. Common imaging modalities include:

  1. Ultrasound Guidance: Ultrasound is often used to visualize the target vein and guide the initial needle puncture. This real-time imaging helps to minimize complications, such as arterial puncture or damage to surrounding structures.
  2. Fluoroscopy: Fluoroscopic imaging, or real-time X-ray, is used to visualize the catheter as it is advanced through the veins and confirm the correct position of the catheter tip. In some cases, contrast dye may be injected to better visualize the blood vessels and catheter placement.


Central venous catheters are invaluable tools in modern medicine, providing essential access to the bloodstream for patients