What is the cephalic vein?
The cephalic vein is a very superficial vein located in the arm. It runs all the way from the shoulder to the hand. It runs on the side of the thumb.
What is its function?
Like all other veins, the cephalic vein takes blood from the hand to the lungs.
What are uses of the cephalic vein?
The cephalic vein is excellent for starting an intravenous line. More than 95% of the population has this vein in a standard anatomical position. The cephalic vein is a frequently used vein to start IV in hospitalized patients.
The cephalic vein can also be used to withdraw blood for analysis.
The cephalic vein is also used for the creation of an AV fistula (a connection between and artery and a vein). An AV fistula is used to dialyze patients with kidney failure. The cephalic vein is connected to a nearby artery and a fistula is established. This is the most useful fistula in the body for dialysis and when done well, can last at least 4-6 years
What problems can occur with the cephalic vein?
Phlebitis: Sometimes when an IV is started in the cephalic vein, there may be irritation of the vein either from the chemicals in the IV solution or some solution may leak out on to the skin. This can cause irritation and pain at the site of the IV catheter. Most individuals will complain of pain at the site when this occurs. Phlebitis is a temporary disorder which usually resolves with warm compress and pain control. In all cases, the IV catheter has to be removed and placed elsewhere.
Blood clots: Sometimes a blood clot may form in the cephalic vein and cause mild pain. Unlike blood clots in the leg, cephalic vein blood clots do not migrate. The blood clots generally resolve on their own and do not require any specific medication.
Infection: Sometimes the IV catheter may cause an infection at the site. Often the catheter has to be removed and the infection will subside. However, in some cases, the infected portion of the vein may have to be cut out. In most cases, a short course of antibiotics will treat the infection.
Unlike the leg veins, the arm veins rarely develop varicosities.
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