The inferior vena cava (IVC) is a large vein that collects blood from the lower body and delivers it to the heart. An IVC filter is a small, cone-shaped device that is placed in the IVC to catch blood clots before they reach the heart.
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Blood clots can develop in the veins of the leg. Occasionally, these blood clots can travel through blood vessels of the legs, to the IVC, then to the heart and lungs. If the clot is large enough it can create a blockage in the arteries of the lungs and cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, or death. Conditions that increase the risk of a traveling blood clot include:
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An IVC filter can catch blood clots from the legs before they reach the heart and lungs. Because the IVC is such a large blood vessel, the filter can catch the blood clot without blocking blood flow. Over time the blood clot will break apart.
This procedure is often used in people who have a high risk for developing blood clots but cannot take blood thinning medications.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
Your doctor will likely do the following:
In the days leading up to your procedure:
A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area where the catheter (tube) will be inserted. This is usually in the groin or the neck. You will be awake during the procedure.
You may also be given a sedative to help you relax.
A small incision will be made in your groin or neck. A catheter will be passed through this incision into a major blood vessel until it reaches the IVC. Imaging and contrast dye will be used to help your doctor see the catheter as it passes through your blood vessels. You may feel a flush when the contrast dye is injected. A collapsed IVC filter will be delivered through the catheter to the desired location. Once in place, the filter will be opened. The catheter is then removed. Pressure will be applied to the insertion site for about 10 minutes after the procedure to prevent bleeding. A bandage is placed over the incision.
After the operation, you will be taken to the recovery room for observation.
About 1 hour
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You will usually go home the same day. If you have any problems, you may need to stay longer.
Right after the procedure, you will be in a recovery room where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored. Medication to help manage pain or prevent blood clots may also be given.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as:
It will take some time for full recovery with a gradual return to normal activity levels in about 2 days. To help your recovery:
Some IVC filters may be removed when they are no longer needed.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Radiology Info—American College of Radiology
Texas Heart Institute
Canadian Association of Radiologists
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Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter placement or removal. University of Washington website. Available at: https://rad.washington.edu/about-us/academic-sections/interventional-radiology. Accessed November 30, 2017.
Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter replacement or removal. University of Washington Medicine website. Available at: http://www.uwmedicine.org/health-library/Pages/inferior-vena-cava-ivc-filter-replacement-or-removal.aspx. Accessed November 30, 2017.
Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter retrieval. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/ivc-filter-retrieval. Accessed November 30, 2017.
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Rajasekhar A, Streiff M. Vena cava filters for management of venous thromboembolism: a clinical review. Blood Rev. 2013;27(5):225-241.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC Last Updated: 9/8/2014