Information for Consumers - Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) Filters
This article tells you about the purpose of an Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) filter, IVC filter risks and what happens before, during and after having a filter inserted.
What is an IVC filter?
The inferior vena cava (IVC) is a very large vein in the abdomen which takes blood from the lower body to the heart and lungs. If you have a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or clot in the leg veins, it is possible for the clot to pass up the IVC into your lungs causing what is called a pulmonary embolus. This can cause problems with the lungs providing enough oxygen to your body. An IVC filter is a mechanical device that is shaped like an umbrella that sits in the IVC and is intended to stop any large clots from your legs reaching your lungs.
The trapped clots remain in the filter until your body dissolves them, usually with the help of blood thinning medication.
Some IVC filters are permanent. However most are removable and are generally removed within 6-12 weeks of insertion. They can be left in place longer if thought necessary by your doctor.
Why do I need an IVC filter?
The main reasons are:
- For people who have had a pulmonary embolus despite treatment with anticoagulant drugs (blood thinning drugs)
- For people who are unable to have anticoagulant drugs and either have a DVT or are at a high risk of developing DVT and pulmonary embolus
Preparation for a IVC filter insertion
If you are a patient in a hospital then the nursing staff will get you ready.
If you are coming in from home:
- Bring your referral letter or request (we may already have this)
- Wear comfortable, loose clothing
- Leave all jewellery and vaulables at home
- Unless you are instructed otherwise, do not eat or drink for 4 hours prior to the procedure
- Organise someone to drive you home. Please talk to the radiology department prior to your procedure if you cannot arrange this.
Important facts to tell your doctor before the procedure
- If you are, or may be pregnant.
- About any allergies and medical conditions you have, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease.
- About any medications you are taking (including natural/ herbal therapies), in particular anti-coagulant drugs (blood thinning) drugs such as warfarin.
You will be taken to a room where there is specialised equipment and staff for this procedure. The procedure will take approximately 30-45 minutes.
You will be given pain relief and sedation to help with any anxiety as required via an intravenous cannula or other appropriate venous line.
The skin on your neck or groin will be cleaned with antiseptic and covered with a sterile drape. The skin is then injected with local anaesthetic which will sting for a few seconds and then go numb. A needle and catheter (fine tube) will then be inserted into a large vein in that area. The catheter is guided into the IVC with the help of x-ray imaging. You should not be able to feel the catheter inside your body as you have no feeling within your veins. The position of the catheter will be checked with the help of some dye or contrast that helps the vein show up on the x-ray. When the catheter is in the correct site, the filter will be inserted. Once the filter is in place the catheter will be removed, leaving the filter behind. Firm pressure will be applied to the area where the catheter was inserted into your skin (puncture site).This allows the vein to seal so you will not bleed.
After the procedure?
If you are an inpatient then you will be taken back to your ward/unit to recover.
If you had the procedure as an outpatient (you were not already in hospital), then you will recover in the Radiology department. The nurses will check on you frequently for about 4 hours to ensure you have recovered from the procedure and are fit to be discharged.
Most IVC filters will be removed within 6-12 weeks, or when your doctor advises it is safe to do so. An appointment will be booked by your doctor for this procedure to take place. If you have not received an appointment for removal, please contact the Radiology Department at the hospital where you had the initial procedure, or talk to your doctor.
IVC filter removal
Preparation is the same for insertion and the procedure will be done in same area of the Radiology Department.
The procedure is similar, however when the doctor removes the filter it will be via a vein in your neck and not the groin.
Risks associated with an IVC filter
In recommending an IVC Filter, your doctor believes that the benefits to you from having this procedure exceed the risks involved. The risks are rare and include:
- Pain and some bruising at the puncture site. Rarely this site may become infected and require treatment with antibiotics
- Bleeding at the puncture site may occur. This is usually stopped by applying pressure and/or ice to the insertion site
- Allergic reactions to the contrast or dye used in the procedure. You may have nausea, sneezing, vomiting, itching, hives or dizziness. More serious reactions can occur but are rare
- The filter may fracture or move within the IVC
- The filter could puncture the wall of your IVC
- Blockage of the filter and IVC by a clot
- At a later date the IVC filter may not be able to be removed for technical or medical reasons. This is not usually a major problem.
If you are at all concerned regarding the risks, talk to your doctor before the procedure. The Radiologist (doctor) who will be doing this procedure will go though all the risks and ask you to sign a formal consent.
For an Australian patient in a Public Hospital in Western Australia
- Public patient - no cost to you unless advised otherwise
- Private patient - partial costs may be claimed though Medicare and your health insurance provider.
For a patient in a Private Hospital or Private Imaging Site in Western Australia or a patient outside Western Australia
- Ask your doctor or the staff where you are having your procedure done what the cost will be
For more detailed information, please access InsideRadiology at: www.insideradiology.com.au
This is a resource produced especially for consumers by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists: www.ranzcr.edu.au
A guide to gathering information that you may need for making informed decisions is published by the Consumers' Health Council of Australia at: https://chf.org.au
If you would like to look at other relevant articles, please access the following:
Or access the Diagnostic Imaging Pathways website at: radiologyacrossborders.org/diagnostic_imaging_pathways/consumer-info
Or if you have questions or require any further information please contact your doctor or speak to the staff where you are going to have your procedure.
This information has been reviewed by representatives from the following groups:
- Private Radiology
- The Health Consumers’ Council.
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This article is intended as general information only. The Diagnostic Imaging Pathways team and Radiology Across Borders will not accept any liability arising from its use. The information is kept as up-to-date and accurate as possible. Please be warned that it is always subject to change.
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