Many people are afraid of IVC filters due to their recent bad press. Like most medical interventions, there is a time and place for these procedures and if done for the right reasons and safely, they can have minimal side effects and complications.
What is an IVC filter?
An IVC (inferior vena cava) filter is a small device that sits within the IVC to prevent large blood clots from becoming pulmonary embolisms. There are multiple different types of filters. Most of the current filters look like the metal part of the inside of an umbrella. One in particular looks like a tangled ball of wire and is called a bird’s nest.
Who needs an IVC filter?
In the not so distant past IVC filters were placed with the intention of preventing pulmonary embolism for a variety of ailments. However, since then many studies have shown that IVC filters are not the pancea physicians thought they were. The ultimate indication for an IVC filter is a patient who cannot tolerate anticoagulation and has a DVT. Another common indication is for patients who have recurrent DVTs who are fully anticoagulated.
How long does an IVC filter need to stay in place?
This is question is complex. It really comes down to why the filter was placed and if the need for the filter is no longer present in the patient. Some filters are meant to be removable. Some filters are permanent. This is a great question to ask your vascular surgeon as every patient’s circumstances are unique and deserve specific considerations.
How are IVC filters placed?
IVC filters can be placed from the groin or the neck. A large IV is placed. The IVC is measured using intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) or using dye. This also checks to make sure the filter is not placed within clot. The filter is deployed using fluoroscopy to make sure it is in the correct place. The deployment device and IV is removed and pressure is held. The procedure itself takes about 15 minutes and the patient has minimal recovery.