Are supine chest and abdominal radiographs the best way to confirm PICC placement in neonates?

Neonatal Netw. Jan-Feb 2010;29(1):23-35. doi: 10.1891/0730-0832.29.1.23.


Background: Peripherally inserted central catheters (PICCs) are commonly used in NICUs. Although they have many benefits, they also have many potential complications. Confirming catheter tip position is essential to decreasing complications, but the best method to achieve confirmation is unclear.

Objectives: Literature review for studies that address line position confirmation to assist health care providers in evaluating the available research and to identify gaps in the literature.

Method: A literature search of four major databases followed by an ancestry approach was performed. Articles reviewed specifically discuss PICC lines and PICC line placement confirmation.

Results: Data on confirming PICC placement were lacking. Fluoroscopic placement is ideal, but cannot be done at the bedside and is costly. Supine chest radiograph is the most widely used method and is convenient, but when line tip position is unclear, contrast or ultrasound confirmation can be used. When PICC lines are placed in the saphenous vein, infants may benefit from supine and lateral abdominal radiographs to ensure placement in the inferior vena cava.

Discussion: More studies are needed to generalize findings. PICC line tips should be located in the superior vena cava or inferior vena cava close to the junction with the right atrium (0.5-1 cm outside of the cardiac chambers in premature infants and 1-2 cm outside of the cardiac chambers in larger infants). Arm position is very important when performing radiographs for placement because movement of the arm can cause migration of the catheter. There is also significant inter-observer variability when identifying line tip position.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Catheterization, Central Venous / methods*
  • Catheters, Indwelling
  • Contrast Media
  • Electrocardiography
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal / methods*
  • Observer Variation
  • Radiography, Abdominal*
  • Radiography, Thoracic*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Supine Position
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional


  • Contrast Media