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Resource type: Article

Drips, tubes and lines (cannulas)

What are drips, lines and cannulas?

They are sterile plastic catheters that are inserted directly into the patient’s blood vessels.

A peripheral line is a small sterile plastic cannula that is inserted into the small veins in the hand or arms. It is used to give intravenous fluids and medications.

An arterial line (or "A line") is a sterile cannula which is inserted into an artery (usually in the wrist or groin) to allow accurate,continuous measurement of the blood pressure. We can also take samples from this line, in order to help us measure blood oxygen levels. An arterial line is usually stitched in, to avoid it becoming dislodged. 

A central line:  is a sterile cannula that is inserted into a large vein, usually in the neck or groin. It is used to measure circulating fluid levels (central venous pressure or CVP), to take blood samples, and to administer intravenous fluids, liquid nutrition and some medications. Some medications need to be given via a central line, where the richer blood supply dilutes it.A central line is usually stitched in, to avoid it becoming dislodged. 

Other lines include a "vascath" which is a large, sterile cannula that is inserted into a large vein, usually in the groin, and used specifically for the purposes of attaching a patient to a kidney machine. A vascath is usually stitched in, in order to prevent it becoming dislodged.

Are there any complications of having lines?

The main risks are that the line or cannula being dislodged. Other risks include bleeding, discomfort, inflammation and infection.