Arterial Catheter

What is an Arterial Catheter?

An arterial catheter, Arterial line. or art-line, or a-line, is a thin catheter or a small thin plastic tube inserted into an artery. It is most commonly used in intensive care medicine and anesthesia to constantly monitor the blood pressure real-time (rather than by intermittent measurement), and to obtain samples for general blood tests and for arterial blood gas measurements(Blood& Pathology tests in Intensive Care). Constant monitoring of the blood pressure in Intensive Care is very important as it is essential for stabilisation of the Critically ill Patient. Furthermore, by having easy access to taking blood samples, prevents medical and nursing staff from using a needle for each blood test.

An Arterial Catheter is not generally used to administer medication. Since many injectable drugs used in intensive care and anesthesia may lead to serious tissue damage and even amputation if given in an artery, the arterial line must be clearly marked to avoid accidental intra-arterial injection of intravenous drugs.

An arterial line is usually inserted(Arterial line insertion) in the wrist (radial artery), but can also be inserted into the elbow (brachial artery), groin (femoral artery), foot (dorsalis pedis artery) or the inside of the wrist (ulnar artery). Any artery that that isn’t an end-artery can theoretically be used but in practicality it’s the arteries mentioned earlier that are used.

Insertion is often painful; however an anesthetic such as lignocaine can be used to make the insertion more tolerable and help making cannulation of the artery somewhat easier.

The arterial line is secured, covered with a plastic dressing and can be held in position by an arm board and a bandage.

How and when is the arterial line removed?

Usually after your loved one has been stabilised and constant monitoring of the blood pressure, as well as constantly monitoring Arterial blood gases and other blood tests are becoming less frequent, a nurse removes the arterial line. This usually happens at the end of an ICU admission, however a Patient can also be in Intensive Care for a lengthy period of time without an Arterial Catheter. The nurse takes the catheter out of the artery and will apply firm pressure, for about 3-5 minutes, to the incision site to stop and  prevent bleeding. A small dressing will be placed over the site.

Are There Any complications?

Any Questions?

   Example of a wrist Arterial Line.

How Does It Work?

For more information on how an Arterial Catheter is inserted follow this link to Arterial line insertion

Are there any complications or risks involved?

The main complications and risks for having an arterial catheter are

  • bleeding(after removal and through disconnection of the catheter line) at the insertion site
  • infection risk(infection migrating into the blood stream via the line is increased with the age of the line)

Any Questions?

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with the ICU nurses and doctors.

All Intensive Care interventions and procedures carry a degree of potential risk even when performed by skilled and experienced staff. Please discuss these issues with the medical and nursing staff who are caring for your loved one.

The information contained on this page is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual Patient variation. It is meant as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one. ITENIVE ARE HOTLINE attests to the accuracy of the information contained here BUT takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual Patient. Please refer to the full disclaimer.

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