Central Venous Catheter vs. Peripheral

What's the Difference?

Central venous catheters (CVC) and peripheral intravenous catheters (PIV) are both types of medical devices used to administer fluids, medications, and other treatments directly into the bloodstream. However, there are some key differences between the two. CVCs are inserted into large central veins, such as the subclavian or jugular veins, and are typically used for long-term treatments or when high volumes of fluids or medications need to be administered. On the other hand, PIVs are inserted into smaller peripheral veins, usually in the arm or hand, and are commonly used for short-term treatments or when lower volumes of fluids or medications are required. Additionally, CVCs are more invasive and carry a higher risk of complications, such as infection or thrombosis, compared to PIVs.


AttributeCentral Venous CatheterPeripheral
LocationInserted into a large vein near the heartInserted into a peripheral vein, usually in the arm or hand
LengthLonger in lengthShorter in length
IndicationsUsed for long-term medication administration, hemodialysis, parenteral nutrition, etc.Used for short-term medication administration, blood transfusions, etc.
ComplicationsRisk of infection, thrombosis, pneumothorax, etc.Less risk of complications compared to central venous catheter
InsertionRequires a more invasive procedureLess invasive procedure
MonitoringAllows for central venous pressure monitoringDoes not allow for central venous pressure monitoring

Further Detail


When it comes to medical procedures, the use of catheters is common in various healthcare settings. Two types of catheters that are frequently used are the Central Venous Catheter (CVC) and the Peripheral Catheter. While both serve the purpose of delivering fluids or medications into the patient's bloodstream, they differ in several attributes, including their insertion site, length of use, and potential complications.

Insertion Site

A significant difference between CVC and Peripheral Catheter lies in their insertion site. A Central Venous Catheter is typically inserted into a large vein in the neck, chest, or groin area. This allows for direct access to the central venous system, including the superior vena cava. On the other hand, a Peripheral Catheter is inserted into a smaller vein, usually in the arm or hand. The choice of insertion site depends on the patient's condition, the purpose of the catheter, and the healthcare provider's preference.

Length of Use

Another important attribute to consider is the length of use for each type of catheter. Central Venous Catheters are designed for long-term use and can remain in place for weeks or even months. They are commonly used for patients who require frequent or continuous administration of medications, chemotherapy, or parenteral nutrition. In contrast, Peripheral Catheters are intended for short-term use, typically lasting a few days to a week. They are commonly used for patients who need intermittent medication administration or fluid resuscitation.

Potential Complications

Both Central Venous Catheters and Peripheral Catheters carry the risk of complications, although the nature of these complications may differ. Central Venous Catheters have a higher risk of infection due to their placement in larger veins and their longer dwell time. Infections can lead to serious bloodstream infections, such as central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs). Additionally, Central Venous Catheters can also be associated with complications such as thrombosis, pneumothorax (if placed in the chest), and catheter malposition. On the other hand, Peripheral Catheters have a lower risk of infection compared to CVCs, but they can still lead to local infections, phlebitis, and infiltration of fluids or medications into the surrounding tissues.

Advantages of Central Venous Catheter

Central Venous Catheters offer several advantages over Peripheral Catheters. Firstly, they provide a more reliable and consistent access route to the central venous system, allowing for the administration of medications or fluids that may be irritating to peripheral veins. Secondly, CVCs can accommodate multiple lumens, enabling the simultaneous administration of different medications or fluids. This is particularly beneficial for patients who require complex treatment regimens. Lastly, Central Venous Catheters are suitable for patients with limited peripheral venous access, such as those with chronic illnesses or extensive scarring.

Advantages of Peripheral Catheter

While Central Venous Catheters have their advantages, Peripheral Catheters also offer unique benefits. Firstly, they are less invasive and easier to insert compared to CVCs, which can be advantageous in patients who do not require long-term access or have limited venous access. Secondly, Peripheral Catheters are associated with lower rates of complications, including infection and thrombosis. This makes them a safer option for patients who do not require the benefits provided by a Central Venous Catheter. Lastly, the removal of a Peripheral Catheter is relatively simple and can be done at the bedside without the need for specialized equipment or expertise.


In conclusion, Central Venous Catheters and Peripheral Catheters have distinct attributes that make them suitable for different clinical scenarios. The choice between the two depends on factors such as the patient's condition, the duration of treatment, and the healthcare provider's judgment. Central Venous Catheters offer reliable central venous access for long-term use, while Peripheral Catheters provide a less invasive option for short-term treatment. Understanding the differences between these catheters is crucial for healthcare professionals to ensure optimal patient care and minimize the risk of complications.

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