We investigated the relationship between the duration of percutaneous central venous catheterization and the occurrence of catheter-related complications in critically ill children by survival analysis techniques. Data were collected prospectively and analyzed for infectious and noninfectious complications from 379 pediatric patients in whom central venous catheters had been placed in the pediatric ICU over a 45-month period. Cumulative survival rate analysis revealed a linear decrease in the number of complication-free catheters with time. The median duration of complication-free catheter survival was projected to be 23.3 days. The risk of catheter complication did not increase with increasing daily duration of catheter use as demonstrated by probability density function: catheter complication rates were similar on the first day after insertion (1.06 +/- 0.5%), the seventh day (4.27 +/- 1.6%), and the 24th day (2.48 +/- 2.4%). Therefore, in this population, routine catheter replacement would not be expected to lower the incidence of catheter-related complications, but may unnecessarily increase the number of insertion-related complications.