A central venous catheter or central line is an intravenous line that is inserted into a large vein such as the internal jugular vein, the subclavian vein, the axillary vein, the femoral vein or a large vein in the arm. They can be temporary or can be implanted if they will be used several times. They are used when medication that can't be administered by mouth would also be harmful to a smaller vein. They are also used for direct measurement of blood gases and venous blood pressure.
They are also used with chronically ill patients, such as cancer patients, to administer antibiotics, nutrition, chemotherapy and other medication. They are also commonly used for very invasive medical procedures such as dialysis and plasmapheresis.
Central catheters have serious complications and should not be used except where the benefit outweighs the risk. Chest catheters can cause a pneumothorax. All catheters provide a route for infection and a site for thrombosis. On occasion, particularly in badly injured patients, they can be accidentally placed in an artery.