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Technique for insertion of percutaneous central venous catheters in the newborn period
  1. G Bayley
  1. Bristol School of Anaesthesia, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr Bayley, Department of Anaesthetics, Bristol Royal Infirmary, Marlborough Street, Bristol, UK;

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The use of percutaneous central venous catheters is of proven value for the provision of parenteral nutrition and intravenous drug treatment in neonates. They have become an integral part of the management of very low birthweight infants in most intensive care units.

At the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne we used a silastic catheter, which has an external diameter of 0.6 mm and comes in a variety of different lengths (Epicutaneo-cava catheter manufactured by Vygon; lengths 15, 30, and 50 cm; ref nos 2184.015, 2184.00, and 2184.005; cost AU$59.10). It is packaged with a metal 19 GA butterfly needle for use in insertion of the line.

This technique has some drawbacks.

  1. The 19 GA needle is difficult to put directly into neonatal veins because of its large size.

  2. It can be difficult to appreciate “flash back” of blood into the metal needle.

  3. It is not possible to “flush” the needle to ensure correct positioning of the line as well as patency of the vessel.

  4. It is not feasible to place femoral venous lines using this method.

We therefore use a method whereby the vein, using the Seldinger technique, is ultimately cannulated with a 20 GA catheter through which the silastic line can be inserted.

  1. The procedure should be carried out under optimal conditions using an aseptic technique. If the infant is already ventilated, we advocate the use of a muscle relaxant as well as adequate sedation. This is especially advisable for insertion of femoral venous lines.

  2. The vein is initially cannulated with a 24 GA (external diameter 0.7 mm) cannula. The sites most often used are the great saphenous vein at the ankle or knee joint, the femoral vein, the basilic or cephalic veins in the antecubital fossa, or, occasionally, the superficial temporal vein. A transilluminator or “cold light” inserted into the finger of a sterile glove can be of use in locating deep veins as well as protecting the sterile field.

  3. A guidewire is then inserted through the cannula into the vein. We use a “duoflex spring wire guide”: diameter 0.45 mm, length 25 cm (duoflex spring wire guide manufactured by Arrow; product no AW-04018; cost AU$13.00; Insyte intravenous catheter manufactured by Becton Dickinson catheter; GA 24, 22, and 20; cost AU$2.00). This has the advantage of having a soft tip at both ends of the wire and being a snug fit to the smallest catheter. Care must be taken not to advance the wire if any resistance is met.

  4. A small nick is made in the skin at the site of wire to facilitate the insertion of the larger intravenous cannulae.

  5. A 20 GA (external diameter 1.1 mm) cannula is then threaded over the wire into the vein (a 22 GA (external diameter 0.8 mm) can be used to dilate the vein before the larger cannula is inserted). This can be flushed with saline to ensure patency of the vein.

  6. The silastic catheter can then be fed up the vein through the 20 GA cannula with a pair of toothless forceps. Occasionally the silastic line coils up in the hub of the cannula. This can be overcome by cutting the cannula flush to the hub and reinserting the silastic line.

  7. The silastic catheter is placed to the required length and the other cannula is withdrawn.

  8. The silastic catheter should be placed outside the cardiac outline in accordance with new guidelines.1–3 The position is always confirmed radiologically either by plain radiograph or, if necessary, by injection of radio-opaque dye. We have seen neonates with pericardial tamponade associated with malpositioned catheters, which has been well documented in the literature.1–3

We have found this method to be extremely reliable in the insertion of percutaneous venous catheters.

The use of the guidewire incurs additional costs (see above). In our experience these are partially offset by an improved success rate using the above method. We do not open the silastic catheter until the 20 GA is in place within the vein. This means that a line is not wasted if the vein cannot be cannulated.