Vascular Access

Inserting a central line is one of the most common procedures performed at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Whether for medical purposes or for treatment, the surgeons and nurses at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh are experts at central line care. A central line, or catheter, is a temporary intravenous (IV) line inserted into a vein to provide medication, fluids, nutrients, or even to take blood samples. It is often used to avoid multiple, often painful needle sticks.

Children’s Hospital was one of the first pediatric surgery centers with nurses specifically dedicated to the care and treatment of the central IV line used in many procedures. This means that the staff is educated on the latest techniques and care of IV lines, reducing potential complications.

Our surgeons at Children’s perform nearly all central line procedures on infants, children and adolescents throughout the region. The tiniest patients from all of Pittsburgh’s Neonatal Intensive Care Units are sent to Children’s when they need help taking in nutrients. Children who need long term medications, such as chemotherapy treatment, also receive their IV line at Children’s.

Insertion and Removal of a Central Line

Insertion or removal of a central line is a relatively quick surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. While each case is evaluated individually, the general procedure involves a small incision near the collar bone or neck and insertion of the line into the vein by using a long, flexible needle and an x-ray. Once in place, the IV is kept in place by what is called a “cuff” and a stitch. As the area around the cuff heals, the skin tissue safely holds the IV in place. Some patients require insertion in the thigh instead of the chest.


Certain children, such as those undergoing treatment for cancers, may require a different kind of access line used, called a mediport, in which the IV has a small reservoir attached that is inserted below the surface of the skin. With this type of catheter, there is no protruding tubing outside the body. Injections are given and blood is taken with a needle stick into the reservoir.

Caring for Your Child’s IV Line

Our surgeons and staff educate parents and patients about caring for the IV line at home in order to avoid infection and how to spot potential problems. The patient’s level of activity and bathing are also discussed. At first, the area where the catheter exits the body will be covered with a dressing, which will need to be carefully changed regularly. Although complications are rare, infections can occur and are easily treated with an anti-biotic medication.