Multiple versus single lumen umbilical venous catheters for newborn infants

Umbilical venous catheters (UVCs) are frequently used in newborn infants. These tubes into the body can have a single channel (lumen) or they can have two or three channels (multiple lumens). With more than one channel, multi-lumen umbilical venous catheters (ML-UVCs) can provide access for multiple purposes: for instance, administration of nutrition, blood products, or therapeutic drugs. It seems logical that use of ML-UVCs would lower the need for additional venous lines, but this needs confirmation.  Complications associated with UVCs are also a consideration. The channel diameter is generally narrower in ML-UVCs. This could increase blockage and blood clot risks.  Three clinical trials involving/completed by 113 babies were identified that compared double-lumen catheters to single-lumen catheters. None of the studies used triple-lumen catheters. All three trials found that use of a double-lumen catheter lowered the number of additional venous placements needed during the first week of life.  The double-lumen catheters, however, clogged, leaked, and broke more often. In these studies, no significant difference was found in catheter placement difficulty and misplacement, catheter-related infections or blood clots, other serious complications, or rate of infant mortality. But the quality of studies was poor, and sample sizes were too small to draw valid conclusions about many complication rates. Available clinical trials at present do not provide a basis for recommending one catheter type over another in this setting.

Authors' conclusions: 

The use of ML-UVCs in comparison to SL-UVCs in neonates is associated with decrease in the usage of PIVs in first week of life, but an increase in catheter malfunctions. As the quality of included randomized studies is poor and the estimates of clinically important complications are imprecise, no firm recommendations can be made regarding the choice of UVC. Adequately powered, properly randomized and properly blinded controlled trials are needed that address the effectiveness and safety of ML-UVCs (double and triple lumen) in comparison to SL-UVCs. These studies should also address the impact of type of catheter material.

Read the full abstract...

Multiple lumen umbilical venous catheters (ML-UVCs) instead of single lumen UVCs (SL-UVCs) may decrease the need for additional venous lines. Although it seems self-evident that ML-UVCs would reduce the need of additional venous lines, the rates of associated complications might be different.


To compare the effectiveness and the safety of ML-UVCs versus SL-UVCs in terms of need of additional vascular access, rates of complications, morbidity and mortality in newborn infants.

Search strategy: 

Randomized and quasi-randomized trials were identified by searching the MEDLINE (1966 - February 2005), EMBASE (1980- February 2005), CINAHL (1982 - February 2005), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 4, 2004) and Science Direct (subject area: medicine, journal and abstract database; 1967 to February 2005). Literature search also included a manual search of the abstracts of scientific meetings published in Pediatric Research (1990-2004). Additional citations were sought using references in articles retrieved from searches. Subject experts were contacted to identify the unpublished and ongoing studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled clinical trials comparing safety and efficacy of multiple versus single lumen umbilical venous catheter in neonates (both term and preterm) who were in need of umbilical venous catheter insertion for vascular access in first four weeks of life.

Data collection and analysis: 

Each review author performed data extraction independently and differences were resolved by discussion. The following outcomes were determined: total number of additional peripheral intravenous lines per baby in first week and first four weeks of life, total number of additional percutaneously and surgically placed central venous lines per baby in first four weeks of life, and other safety and efficacy measures. The treatment effect estimators used were RR, RD, and WMD when appropriate along with their 95% CI. If RD was statistically significant, then number needed to treat (NNT) or number needed to harm (NNH) was calculated.

Main results: 

Three studies qualified for inclusion in this review (Khilnani 1991; Loisel 1996; Soupre 1998). There was a decrease in the ML-UVCs group in the number of additional PIVs used in the first week of life [WMD -1.42, (95% CI -1.74, -1.10), p<0.00001, number of infants (n) = 99]. There was no significant effect on the number of additional PIVs used in the first four weeks of life [MD -2.30, (95% CI -6.65, 2.05), n=36]. There was an increase in catheter malfunction in the ML-UVCs group [typical RR 3.69 (95% CI 0.99, 13.81), p=0.05; RD 0.15 (95% CI 0.03, 0.27), p=0.01; NNH was 7, 95% CI 4, 33; n=99]. The following outcomes were not significantly different in the two groups: clinical sepsis, catheter related blood stream infection, catheter-associated thrombosis, complications related to catheter malposition in heart and great vessels, NEC and early neonatal mortality.