The Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) is a large vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. IVC filters are devices used in patients with a history or risk of developing clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVTs) of the legs that can’t be treated by blood thinners alone. Harrison’s vascular surgeons are experienced at placing this life-saving device in a minimally invasive, low-risk procedure in our catheterization laboratory.
The IVC filter traps blood clots that have broken loose and prevents them from reaching the lungs, a potentially fatal complication. Until recently, IVC filters were permanently implanted devices. The new IVC filters, called “optionally retrievable” can be left in place as long as filter protection is needed and removed when the risk of pulmonary embolism has passed.
A removable IVC filter is typically placed through the large vein in the neck, or through a vein in your groin. To prevent pain during filter placement, you're given a numbing drug at the insertion site and possibly a drug through IV to help you relax and feel as comfortable as possible.
The delivery catheter will be guided to the area where the filter needs to be placed. Contrast (X-ray dye) is then sent into your blood vessel. X-rays are taken of your abdomen while the contrast moves through your blood vessel to show where the filter can be safely placed. The filter is then released or deployed by a special catheter that holds the filter inside.
Once the filter is placed, another injection of contrast dye is given to verify the location of the filter. The catheter is removed and pressure is applied to the puncture site. Pressure is held at the site for about five minutes.
Life after the procedure
The procedure has great results and low risk after it is complete. The IVC filters are very effective at preventing fatal pulmonary embolism. The risk of complications—such as the filter moving, migration, clotting or perforation—are less than 4%.
If you receive an optionally retrievable IVC filter, you’ll require another procedure to remove it—and you’ll no longer have mechanical protection against clots traveling into your lungs. Talk to your doctor about your continued risk for clots and next steps, such as taking blood thinning agents. Permanent IVC filters require no specific follow-up care. You should tell all your future caregivers that you have an IVC filter in place.