Central Line Placement: A Step-by-Step Procedure Guide with Photos

Authors: V. Dimov, M.D.; B. Altaqi, M.D.
Reviewer: S. Randhawa, M.D.

See the slide show or click on the images below for step-by-step instructions. A free PDA version of this procedure guide is available from MeisterMed, iSilo reader for PDA is required to view the images.


Venous access is needed for intravenous fluids or antibiotics and a peripheral site is unavailable or not suitable
Central venous pressure measurement
Administration of certain chemotherapeutic drugs or total parenteral nutrition (TPN)
For hemodialysis or plasmapheresis


Uncooperative patient
Uncorrected bleeding diathesis
Skin infection over the puncture site
Distortion of anatomic landmarks from any reason
Pneumothorax or hemothorax on the contralateral side

Relative contraindications

Positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) mechanical ventilation
Only one functioning lung

Procedure Step-by-Step

Explain the procedure to the patient and obtain a written informed consent, if possible. Explain the risks, benefits and alternatives (RBA).

Get to know the equipment in the standard central line placement kit. We will use the terms central line and triple lumen catheter (TLC) interchangeably in this article.

Fig. 1. Equipment needed for TLC.

Fig. 2, 3, 4, 5. Open the standard kit and inspect the content. You have to know what each part of the kit is used for.

Fig. 6, 7. Take a look at the guide wire.

Fig. 8, 9. Lidocaine is used for local anesthesia.

Fig. 10, 11, 12, 13. Fill the wells of the kit with normal saline and flush the TLC.

Fig. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. Check the needles and syringes (three of each).

Fig. 19, 20. Inspect the patient, check the anatomical landmarks.

Fig. 21, 22, 23. Disinfect the skin and apply the local anesthesia.

Fig. 24, 25. Start the "real thing" - look for the vein with the big needle (strategy one), or with the smaller guide needle first (strategy two).

Fig. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. Thread in the guide wire.

Fig. 31, 32. Pass the dilator over the guide wire.

Fig. 33, 34, 35, 36

Fig. 37, 38, 39, 40. Pass the TLC over the guide wire.

Fig. 41, 42, 43

Fig. 44, 45. Flush the TLC to make sure that all 3 ports are patent.

Fig. 46, 47, 48. Suture the TLC in place.

Do not forget to put the needles in the sharp objects collector box. Order a CXR to rule out a pneumothorax and write a procedure note.


Air embolism
Introduction of infection

Write a procedure note which documents the following:

Patient consent
Indications for the procedure
Relevant labs, e.g INR/PTT, platelet count
Procedure technique, sterile prep, anesthetic, amount of fluid obtained, character of fluid, estimated blood loss
Any complications
Tests ordered


Central Line Placement (with and without ultrasound guidance). A Chapter in MeisterMed's Procedure Series for PDA. V. Dimov, B. Altaqi, 2/20/2007.
Internal Jugular Vein Cannulation. The UCSF Hospitalist Handbook.
Central Venous Catheterization. NEJM, 2007 (paid subscription required).
Central Venous Access. eMedicine, July 29, 2005.
VenousAccess.com Slides
Central Line Placement. Blueprints Clinical Procedures by Laurie L Marbas, Erin Case. Blackwell Publishing, access via Google Book Search.
Procedures. University at Buffalo.
Central Venous Catheterization: Concise Definitive Review. Medscape, Critical Care Medicine, 05/16/2007 (free registration required).
Placement of a Femoral Venous Catheter. NEJM, 06/2008.

Related Reading

NEJM Videos in Clinical Medicine. These are high-quality professional videos but they require a subscription to NEJM:
Central Venous Catheterization - IJ vein
Central Venous Catheterization - Subclavian Vein
Central Line
RookieDoc Central Line Placement Resources, 2010.
Invasive procedures. BMJ 12/2005.
Lightning Strikes Twice. Scalpel or Sword? 11/2007.
Becoming a Rural Doctor, Part 5: Procedures for the Rural Doctor. Rural Doctoring, 2008.


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Published: 05/11/2005
Updated: 02/15/2010

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