Inferior Vena Cava Filter (IVC Filter)

An IVC filter is used to help prevent a blood clot from becoming a pulmonary embolism.

The inferior vena cava is the largest vein in the human body, which carries blood from the lower extremities of the body up to your chest. When a blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) forms in one of your legs, it can travel to your lungs and become a pulmonary embolism. While not always fatal, a pulmonary embolism (PE) can cause cardiac arrest or death. A condition called chronic PE can occur, where the flow of blood to pick up oxygen in the lungs is permanently altered, and severe symptoms such as shortness of breath and high pressure in the arteries to the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) can occur.

What is an IVC filter?

The IVC filter is a small metallic device inserted into the inferior vena cava, so that it can catch or block the clot before it reaches your lungs and becomes a pulmonary embolism.

  • The inferior vena cava filter works by letting blood flow around the clot – the flowing blood contains elements that allow the body to break down clot.
  • There are two types of IVC filters, permanent and retrievable, and your Henry Ford interventional radiologist will help you determine which device is right for you.
  • It is important to note that an inferior vena cava filter does not stop new clots from forming. To help with this, you also may be prescribed blood thinners.

Permanent vs. retrievable filters

Originally, and for many years, IVC filters were a permanently placed medical device. More recently, research has suggested a benefit to removing the filter once the risk of PE decreases or the situation placing the patient at high risk of PE resolves.

For example, a person who has a PE as a result of being involved in a car accident and being confined in bed, then undergoes physical rehabilitation and resumes a normal lifestyle. The filter that initially protected them from PE can now place them at risk for thrombosis of their vena cava. Hence, it may be desirable to remove filters in some circumstances.

  • Your doctor can discuss options for filters with you. Retrievable filters work best in specific circumstances.
  • Retrievable filters are best removed within three months of placement, although attempts to retrieve can occur much longer after placement.
  • Retrievable filters do not have to come out. In some cases it may be most appropriate to leave it as a permanent protective device.

What happens during the IVC filter procedure?

During the IVC filter procedure, which typically takes less than an hour, your Henry Ford Interventional Radiology team will:

  • Administer a local anesthetic at the insertion site. You may also receive sedation as well, for anxiety.
  • Insert the IVC filter through a vein – typically one in your neck or groin.
  • Use a catheter and X-ray guidance to place the IVC filter into the inferior vena cava.
  • Remove the catheter.
  • The puncture site is tiny (2-3 mm) and typically covered with a small dressing or Dermabond® (glue).

What happens after the IVC filter procedure?

After the inferior vena cava filter procedure:

  • You are closely monitored while you recover and the effects of any medications you were given begin to wear off.
  • We may also advise you to avoid lifting more than 10 pounds or excessive squatting or stair-climbing for one day after the procedure.
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