Blood clots that form in the lower half of the body can put people at risk for pulmonary embolism or even death. When the traditional method of treatment for blood clots–blood thinning agents–cannot be used, physicians look to other treatments. UVA Interventional Radiology offers IVC filter placement and removal as an alternative method of minimizing the risk of blood clots.
Reviewed by Luke Wilkins, MD
What Is An IVC Filter?
The inferior vena cava (IVC) is a large vein in the abdomen that carries blood from the lower and middle region of the body to the heart. An IVC filter is a small metal device that can be placed into this large vein to prevent blood clots in the lower body from traveling up the vein and blocking blood flow to the lungs or heart.
What Is An IVC Filter Used for?
When patients have blood clots in the veins of their legs or pelvis, they carry the risk of the blood clot traveling to their lungs. This can cause pulmonary embolism, or blockage of a pulmonary artery in the lungs. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency and needs to be dealt with immediately.
Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:
Shortness of breath
Back or leg pain
The feeling of being lightheaded or passing out
Blue lips or nails
Death if untreated
Typically, blood clots are treated with blood thinning medications. Unfortunately, blood thinners are not an option for everyone due to risk of bleeding and other health conditions. The inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is an alternative device used to mitigate the risk of pulmonary embolism for those who cannot take blood thinners.
Placing IVC Filters
To place an IVC filter, an interventional radiologist inserts a catheter through a small puncture in the skin into a vein in the neck or leg. Using medical imaging to guide the procedure, the catheter is moved to the inferior vena cava. The IVC filter is then pushed through the catheter and correctly positioned to attach to the vein walls. Here it can serve its purpose of trapping large blood clots and prevent them from reaching the heart or lungs.
Removing IVC Filters
When IVC filters were created, they were originally intended to be a permanently placed device. Then physicians discovered that removing the filters, after the risk of the clot traveling to the lung had passed or the patient became able to use blood thinners, can actually eliminate long term risks of the filter fracturing or recurring deep vein blood clots.
Therefore, newer IVC filters are called optionally retrievable filters. These are made to be either left in place or removed from the blood vessel after it has served its purpose. Not all filters should be removed if the risks of blood clots traveling to the lungs persists or if blood thinners are still not an option. The IVC filter should be assessed by an interventional radiologist within 6 months after placement to see if it needs to be removed.
While most filters should be removed within 12 months of placement, UVA interventional radiologists have successfully retrieved many filters that had been left in place for over ten years. Through advanced retrieval techniques, they are even able to remove filters that were made to be permanently placed. This eliminates long term risks and complications associated with IVC filters.
If you suffer from blood clots in the lower body and could be at risk of pulmonary embolism OR if you have an IVC Filter in place that needs to be retrieved, call 434-243-0321 to schedule a consultation with a specialized UVA interventional radiologist.