Medical Definition of Catheter, central venous

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Catheter, central venous: A catheter (tube) that is passed through a vein to end up in the thoracic (chest) portion of the vena cava (the large vein returning blood to the heart) or in the right atrium of the heart.

Central venous catheters have a number of different uses. A central venous catheter allows concentrated solutions to be infused with less risk of complications. It permits monitoring of special blood pressures including the central venous pressure, the pulmonary artery pressure, and the pulmonary capillary wedge pressures. A central venous catheter can be used for the estimation of cardiac output and vascular resistance. The near end of the catheter may also be connected to a chamber for injections given over periods of months. A central venous catheter saves having to have frequent small injections or "drips" placed in the arms. It may also allow a patient to have medicine or fluids at home instead of in the hospital.

The central venous catheters may be inserted for the short term or long term. There are two types of long term central catheters: a cuffed or tunnelled line and the reservoir long line that ends in a rubber bulb or reservoir.

The possible complications of a central venous catheter include air in the chest (pneumothorax) due to a punctured lung, bleeding in the chest (hemothorax), fluid in the chest (hydrothorax), bleeding into or under the skin (hematoma) and infection. If the line becomes disconnected, air may enter the blood and cause problems with breathing or a stroke.

A central venous catheter is also called a central venous line. Sometimes, the "venous" is omitted and it is called a central catheter or central line.

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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