Lauded for safety, ease, and patient convenience, peripherally inserted central catheters (PICC) lines have become clinicians’ go-to for intravenous (IV) delivery of antibiotics, nutrition, chemotherapy, and other medications. But, compared to other central venous catheters (CVCs), PICCs more than double the risk of dangerous blood clots, particularly in those critically ill or oncology patients, says a new University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Health System study published in The Lancet.

PICCs have become the preferred device to administer long-term IV fluids and drugs because they have lower risks of infection, can be conveniently placed at the bedside, and can stay in place for long periods of time. PICCs are also safer to insert, since they are placed in the arm, while CVCs are placed into a large vein in the neck, chest, or groin and risk damage to nerves or arteries. The ability to keep PICCs in for weeks or even months also allows patients who need a constant flow of medications to go home with these catheters.

Researchers specifically analyzed the risks of deep vein thrombosis, clots that form in the vein deep in the body, associated with PICCs relative to CVCs. Patients who received PICCs were more than twice as likely to develop blood clots as those who received CVCs. PICC-associated deep vein thrombosis is a potentially life-threatening condition that can lead to arm pain, arm swelling, venous damage, lung blood clots and possibly death.