The records of 27 pediatric patients who required parenteral nutrition (PN) for 5 to 14.5 years (mean +/- SD, 8.5 +/- 3.8) were analyzed to determine the frequency of complications with their central venous catheters (CVC). This represents a 230 patient-year experience. Patients with short bowel syndrome and chronic intestinal pseudoobstruction syndrome (CIPS) accounted for all but two of the patients. Unsuccessful medical management of the exit site or CVC infection was responsible for removal of 62% of the 123 CVCs. Ninety-five episodes of line infection occurred in 24 patients. Fifty (52%) were successfully treated without catheter removal. The organisms responsible for catheter removal were fungal (14), mycobacterium species (5), gram-positive cocci (22), or gram-negative bacilli (19). The CVCs were infected an average of once every 884 days. The life of the second CVC (23.5 +/- 17.9 months) was significantly longer than that of the first (P < .05). Clotting of the CVC with unsuccessful lysis of the clot was responsible for removal of 24%, and breakage or unsuccessful repair was responsible for 14%. In no patient were all possible venous sites for CVC placement exhausted. Patients with CIPS had substantially fewer catheter complications (P < .05) than did those with short bowel syndrome. In conclusion, CVCs can "survive" without major complications for more than a decade. Numerous factors contribute to the increased rate of CVC survival over time, including improvement in PN self-care with greater experience, improvement in teaching, regular follow-up of patients, better management of infection, and better ability to treat CVC thrombosis or breakage.