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N Engl J Med. 1992 Oct 8;327(15):1062-8.

A controlled trial of scheduled replacement of central venous and pulmonary-artery catheters.

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University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville 22908.



The incidence of infection increases with the prolonged use of central vascular catheters, but it is unclear whether changing catheters every three days, as some recommend, will reduce the rate of infection, It is also unclear whether it is safer to change a catheter over a guide wire or insert it at a new site.


We conducted a controlled trial in adult patients in intensive care units who required central venous or pulmonary-artery catheters for more than three days. Patients were assigned randomly to undergo one of four methods of catheter exchange: replacement every three days either by insertion at a new site (group 1) or by exchange over a guide wire (group 2), or replacement when clinically indicated either by insertion at a new site (group 3) or by exchange over a guide wire (group 4).


Of the 160 patients, 5 percent had catheter-related bloodstream infections, 16 percent had catheters that became colonized, and 9 percent had major mechanical complications. The incidence rates (per 1000 days of catheter use) of bloodstream infection were 3 in group 1, 6 in group 2, 2 in group 3, and 3 in group 4; the incidence rates of mechanical complications were 14, 4, 8, and 3, respectively. Patients randomly assigned to guide-wire-assisted exchange were more likely to have bloodstream infection after the first three days of catheterization (6 percent vs. 0, P = 0.06). Insertions at new sites were associated with more mechanical complications (5 percent vs. 1 percent, P = 0.005).


Routine replacement of central vascular catheters every three days does not prevent infection. Exchanging catheters with the use of a guide wire increases the risk of bloodstream infection, but replacement involving insertion of catheters at new sites increases the risk of mechanical complications.

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