What are the risks of an IVC filter?

baird IVC filter risk

One of the services we offer our patients is IV filter placements. Inferior vena cava (IVC) filters are small metal devices placed in patients at risk of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis in the legs or pelvis; the clots can break off and cause pulmonary embolism, the lodging of an embolus, such as a blood clot, in the lungs. Your doctor may recommend an IVC filter for conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism, trauma immobility or recent surgery or childbirth.

Recently, IVC filters have been a topic of conversation on whether they’re safe or not. We talked to Dr. Brian Strife about IVC filters and here’s what he had to say.

“IVC filters have been placed for the last several decades, developed initially in the 1960’s,” he said. “Originally, they were designed as permanent devices, meaning the filter would be placed in the patient’s vein, and it was designed to remain in place for the life of the patient.”

In the last few years, retrievable filters were developed. They have a hook or some other component to the filter where a physician could grab it and remove it. “Over time, what we learned is that some of these filters were prone to develop problems in a very small number of them,” said Dr. Strife. “The problems included migration, or movement of the filter, fracture or breaking of the filter, and then clotting of the filter.” Those are the 3 main complications that we often hear about with inferior vena cava filters.

“When the filter itself develops a blood clot,” he continued, “it can block the main vein, the IVC, this can lead to significant pain and swelling in the lower extremities. Also, the filters themselves, being made out of metal, over time the metal can stress and fatigue. The filter can break, pieces of the filter can migrate into the patient and damage adjacent organs. Very rarely, pieces of the filter can break off and go to the heart and lungs.”

The filters, whether they are permanent or retrievable types, are meant to stay in the patient for a long time. The filters are made out of stainless steel or some kind of metal alloy that is designed to withstand years of being inside a human body. It’s a rare occurrence that the filters have any problems at all.

“Although these complications are extremely uncommon,” said Dr. Strife. “It is a source of patient anxiety and we often receive a number of phone calls from patients asking if they should have their filter removed to avoid these complications.”

“In 2010, the FDA recommended that physicians who placed these filters, and physicians who follow patients with these filters, make an attempted to consider IVC filter retrieval when the filter is no longer needed,” he continued. “Sometimes that’s a tough question to answer, because we don’t necessarily know which patients are best suited to have a filter in for the rest of their lives. When a patient calls our office and says ‘I have an inferior vena cava filter and I’d like to have it removed,’ we typically have the patient come in for a consultation, discuss why they have the filter in the first place, and try to make an informed decision on whether retrieval is appropriate for them or not. Sometimes, that’s a very easy question to answer, sometimes we need to do additional tests and consult with other physicians before making that decision.”

If you need an IVC filter, our would like to talk to us about one you currently have, call us at (804) 828-2600 to discuss your options.

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