Coauthors: Shah, Osman; AMC, Pakistan/Saleem, Sana; DUHS, Pakistan

Specialty Editor: Yengo, Mavis Lungelwa; AKU, Tanzania


Central venous line placement is typically performed at four sites in the body: the right or left internal jugular vein (IJV), or the right or left subclavian vein (SCV). Alternatives include the external jugular and femoral veins. A long catheter may be advanced into the central circulation from the antecubital veins as well.

The internal jugular vein follows a line from the inferior aspect of the external acoustic meatus to the medial aspect of the clavicle. It passes deep to the sternocleidomastoid muscle between the two heads and joins the subclavian vein to form the brachiocephalic vein, posterior to the clavicle closest to the sternum.
The subclavian vein is a continuation of the axillary vein draining the arm. It begins at the lateral border of the first rib and ends at the thoracic inlet where it meets the IJV to form the brachiocephalic vein. The SCV passes over the first rib and apical pleura and runs along the underside of the clavicle parallel with the subclavian artery but is separated from the artery at the anterior scalene muscle, with the vein passing over the muscle.

Central venous catheterization via the internal jugular vein has a lower incidence of pneumothorax compared to catheterization via the subclavian vein, and it can be easily compressed after catheter removal or after unintentional arterial puncture. Ultrasound can be a valuable adjunct for IJV cannulation, because the incidence of anatomical variants may be as high as 8.5%. Subclavian vein catheterization is more comfortable for awake patients and less prone to contamination from respiratory secretions, particularly in patients with tracheotomies.


  • Hemodynamic pressure monitoring
  • Central venous pressure (CVP); right-heart filling pressures, surrogate of left-heart filling pressures
  • Pulmonary artery catheter insertion
  • Pulmonary capillary wedge pressure monitoring
  • Coronary sinus catheterization for minimally invasive cardiac surgery
  • Large-bore intravenous access
  • Rapid fluid resuscitation
  • Rapid administration of blood replacement therapy
  • Infusion of therapeutic drugs
  • Vasoactive substances
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hyperalimentation
  • Other substances that would be too caustic to the subcutaneous or peripheral vascular spaces
  • Plasmapheresis, apheresis
  • Renal dialysis
  • Transvenous pacing
  • Aspiration of air embolism


  • Patient refusal
  • Infection at the insertion site
  • Anatomical variance at the insertion site
  • Superior vena cava syndrome (except femoral venous line)
  • Coagulopathy
  • Systemic infection
  • Right-sided ventricular assist device
  • Presence of indwelling catheters or pacing wires at the insertion site


  • Sterile mask, gloves, and gown
  • Standard monitors, such as pulse oximeter, blood pressure cuff, and ECG
  • When possible, peripheral IV with infusion solution
  • Sterile prep solution (e.g., chlorhexidine)
  • Sterile drapes
  • 5-mL sterile syringe with 25- or 30-gauge needle for local anesthetic infiltration
  • Local anesthetic (usually 1% lidocaine)
  • 22-gauge, 1.5-inch needle
  • 18- or 20-gauge intravenous catheter (over a needle) on a syringe, or 18-gauge hollow-bore needle
  • Pressure tubing
  • Guidewire
  • No. 11 scalpel blade
  • Central venous catheter with dilator
  • 3.0 suture on cutting needle


  • Explain to the patient what you are about to do.
  • Choose the site for insertion: the jugular and femoral veins carry less bleeding risk and low risk of pneumothorax; the subclavian vein is a cleaner site and is technically more difficult – we have not covered the technique here. The femoral vein is probably the easiest site. Put on your gloves and gown. Clean and drape the site.
  • Tilt the head end of the bed down by 10°–15°.
  • Draw up 10 ml of lidocaine; raise a bleb on the skin with a 27-gauge needle.
  • Infiltrate local anesthetic all around the site, working down toward the vein. Pull back on the plunger before injecting each time to ensure that you don’t inject into the vein.
  • Have the assistant open the central line pack and take all of the items out. Ensure that the wire moves freely on its reel – you will need to advance the wire one-handed.
  • Flush each port of the central line with saline or heparin saline, and close off each line except the distal (usually brown) line; the wire threads through this line.
  • Attach a syringe to the large needle provided, and then proceed as follows:
    – right femoral line: find the arterial pulse and enter the skin 1 cm medial to this, at a 45° angle to the vertical and heading parallel to the artery. Advance slowly, aspirating all the time, until you enter the vein
    – right jugular line: palpate the carotid artery with your left hand, covering the artery with your fingers. Insert the needle 0.5–1 cm laterally to the artery, aiming at a 45°angle to the vertical. In men, aim for the right nipple; in women, aim for the iliac crest. Advance slowly, aspirating all the time, until you enter the vein. If you fail to aspirate blood after entering 3–4 cm, withdraw, re-enter at the same point, but aim slightly more medially
  • When the needle is in the vein, ensure that you can reliably aspirate blood. Remove the syringe, keeping the needle very still, and immediately put your thumb over the end of the needle.
  • Insert the wire into the end of the needle, and advance the wire until at least 30 cm are inserted. The wire should advance very easily – do not force it.
  • Keeping one hand on the wire at all times, remove the needle, keeping the wire in place. Make a nick in the skin where the wire enters the skin. Insert the dilator over the wire and push into the skin as far as it will go. Remove the dilator.
  • Insert the central line over the wire. Keep one hand on the wire at all times. When the central line is 2 cm away from the skin, slowly withdraw the wire back through the central line until the wire tip appears from the line port. Hold the wire here while you insert the line. Leave a few centimeters of the line outside the skin. Withdraw the wire and immediately clip off the remaining port.
  • Attach the line to the skin with sutures. Tie loosely so as not to pinch the skin; this causes necrosis and detachment of the line. Clean the skin around the line once more, dry, and cover with occlusive dressings.
  • Ensure that you can aspirate blood from each lumen of the line, then flush each lumen with saline or heparin saline.
  • Order a chest x-ray to check for line position and pneumothorax if a jugular or subclavian line has been inserted. Femoral lines do not require an x-ray.


Cannot cannulate the vein: try another site. If you have access to a portable ultrasound device, try using it.

Arterial puncture: this is not always obvious, especially in shocked, hypoxic patients, when the blood can be dark and flow sluggishly. If you do hit an artery, remove the needle and press firmly for 5 minutes with a gauze pad.

Vein cannulated but wire fails to advance: sometimes veins are small, tortuous, or occluded (e.g., by thrombus from previous cannulation attempts). Do not force the wire; try another site.

Line in wrong place: occasionally, lines double back on themselves or subclavian lines go up into the jugular. If this occurs, either remove the line and start again or, if you have access to fluoroscopic guidance, try to reinsert the wire, remove the line, and reposition the wire.

Beware of using too much local anesthetic on multiple line insertions; the maximum dose should not really exceed 3–5 mg/kg(e.g., 10–15 ml of 2% lidocaine for a 70-kg patient).

Central lines do not cure patients. They take longer to put in than you think and often require the patient to lie flat with drapes on the head for some time. Make sure that you are treating the patient’s condition as well as inserting a central line.


  • Flush lumens on catheter with saline.
  • Obtain chest radiograph to confirm position of catheter and exclude pneumothorax.
  • Use sterile technique when injecting drugs or connecting tubing to lumens of catheter.
  • Routinely replace sterile dressings, cleansing the site with chlorhexidine before applying a new dressing.
  • Examine the insertion site daily for signs of infection.
  • While the catheter is in place, leave sterile caps in place at all times and cleanse ports with alcohol before connecting anything to them.
  • When preparing to remove the catheter, place the patient in Trendelenburg’s position. Ask the patient to exhale as the catheter is removed, to prevent air embolism, and apply pressure over the site for 1 to 2 minutes for hemostasis.


  • Minor hematoma formation at insertion site
  • Local infection
  • Arterial (carotid, subclavian, vertebral) puncture
  • Arrhythmias,

Rare Complications

  • Major hematoma compressing airway
  • Major trauma to large vessels with hemorrhage
  • Cardiac perforation with tamponade
  • Pneumothorax or hemothorax (diagnosis via chest radiograph)
  • Thoracic duct injury, usually associated with left subclavian or internal jugular approach (diagnosis established by the presence of chyle in pleural fluid)
  • Sepsis
  • Venous air embolism
  • Nerve injury
  • Venous thrombosis and pulmonary emboli



1. Lavelle J, Costarino AT. Central venous access and central venous pressure monitoring. In: Henretig FM, King CC, eds. Textbook of Pediatric Emergency Procedures. Baltimore, Md: Williams & Wilkins; 1997:251-278.

2. Goutail-Flaud MF, Sfez M, Berg A, et al. Central venous catheter-related complications in newborns and infants: a 587-case survey. J Pediatric Surgery. 1991;26:645