An IVC filter is one method to help prevent pulmonary embolism. Your inferior vena cava (IVC) is the major vein that brings oxygen-poor blood from the lower body back to the heart. The heart then pumps the blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. An IVC filter is a small, wiry device. When the filter is placed in your IVC, the blood flows past the filter. The filter catches blood clots and stops them from moving up to the heart and lungs. This helps to prevent a pulmonary embolism.
It’s important to understand that an IVC filters does not protect against DVT. You may still get a DVT. The filter helps to protect you from a life-threatening pulmonary embolism if you have a DVT.
You might need an IVC filter if you have a DVT or pulmonary embolism, or have had either of these in the past. Your health care provider may advise an IVC filter if:
- You can’t take blood thinner medicine
- You took blood thinner medicine and it didn’t work
Risks of IVC filter placement
All procedures have risks. The risks of this procedure include:
- Too much bleeding
- Allergic reaction
- Damage to the blood vessel at the insertion site
- Blockage of blood flow through the vena cava, which can cause leg swelling
- A filter that travels to the heart or lungs, causing injury or death
- A filter that pierces through the inferior vena cava, causing pain or damage to other organs
- Problem with placement of the filter
- Continued risk of a blood clot that travels to the lungs
Your risks may vary based on your overall health, the severity of your condition, and other factors. Ask your doctor about which risks apply most to you.
Getting ready for your procedure
Talk with your doctor about the type of IVC filter that you will have. Some filters can be taken out when your risk of DVT is lower. Others are meant to stay in your IVC permanently.
Talk with your doctor about how to get ready for your procedure. Tell him or her about all the medicines you take. This includes over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin. You may need to stop taking some medicines ahead of time, such as blood thinners. If you smoke, you’ll need to stop before your procedure. Talk with your health care provider if you need help to stop smoking.
You may need some tests before the procedure. These are to assess your health. Your doctor can tell you more if you need tests.
Do not eat or drink after midnight the night before your procedure. Arrange to have someone available to drive you home after your procedure.
Before the procedure, make sure to tell the medical team if you:
- Have had any recent changes in your health, such as a fever
- Are pregnant or might be pregnant
- Have ever had a problem with anesthesia
On the day of your procedure
Talk with your health care provider about what to expect during your procedure. It usually takes about an hour. The procedure is done by an interventional radiologist and a team of specialized nurses. A typical procedure may go like this:
- An IV will be put in your arm or hand before the procedure starts. You’ll be given sedation through the IV line. This will make you relaxed and sleepy during procedure.
- Hair in the area of your procedure may be removed. The area may be numbed with a local anesthesia.
- Your doctor will make a small incision in this region to access a major vein leading to the IVC.
- A long thin tube (catheter) will be inserted into this vein.
- Your doctor will use continuous X-rays (fluoroscopy) and move the tube up into the IVC. Contrast material may be sent through into the catheter to help show the IVC clearly on the X-rays.
- Your doctor will release the filter into the IVC. Here the filter will expand and attach itself to the walls of your IVC.
- The catheter will be removed.
- The incision on your neck or groin will be closed and bandaged.
After your procedure
After the procedure, you will spend several hours in a recovery room. You may be sleepy and confused when you wake up. Your health care team will watch your vital signs, such as your heart rate and breathing. You’ll be given pain medicine if you need it. You may have a headache or nausea, but these should go away quickly.
You may be able to go home the same day. Your doctor will tell you more about what to expect. When you are ready to go home, you will need to have a family member or friend drive you.
Recovering at home
Follow all of your doctor’s instructions. This includes any advice about medicines, exercise, and wound care. You may have some pain after the procedure. You may notice a bruise where the catheter was inserted. You can take over-the-counter pain medicines if you need to. Get some rest and avoid strenuous exercise for at least 24 hours.
Make sure to keep all of your follow-up appointments. You will need continued monitoring after your treatment. You may need follow-up imaging tests to make sure your filter is still in the correct place. If you have the type of IVC filter that can be removed, you may have a similar procedure in the future to remove the device. This may be done after your risk of DVT has gone down. In some cases a removable filter is left in place. This may happen if scar tissue grows around the filter and it cannot be removed.