What is an Inferior Vena Cava Filter (IVC) filter?
IVC stands for inferior vena cava, a major blood vessel that returns blood from the lower body to the heart. An IVC filter is a small piece of metal that can be put into the inferior vena cava to prevent blood clots in the legs from going up to the lungs.
A blood clot in the leg is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If the clot goes to the lung, it's called a pulmonary embolus (PE). A large PE can be lethal.
Why does an IVC filter need to be placed?
If you have a DVT, you'll probably need to take blood-thinning medicine to prevent the clot from moving. Some people are unable to take blood thinners because of bleeding problems. Others may have tried blood thinners, but the medicine may not have worked properly. These people may need a temporary or permanent IVC filter to prevent blood clots from going to the lungs.
There are several types of IVC filters that are used today. The Greenfield filter is one of the most familiar names. Some of these filters are permanent; others are temporary and can be removed easily.
How is an IVC filter placed?
An IVC filter is placed by a doctor known as an interventional radiologist. It's a minor surgical procedure. Since you are sedated for the operation, you probably won't remember anything. A needle goes into a vein in your neck or groin to put a catheter into your blood vessel. The catheter is carefully positioned so the IVC filter can be inserted. By using an x-ray, the doctor can see the filter and move it to the right place.
How long does the procedure take?
The procedure usually takes less than an hour. Most people go home within a day or two if there aren't any major problems.
What are the risks?
The procedure is considered low risk, so major problems are rare. Bleeding and infection are possible at the incision. The risk of injury to other organs is very small. Other risks, including death, are very rare.
If you need an IVC filter, talk with your doctor about which one is right for you. Each unique filter design has its own risks and benefits.