Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter candidates may have many concerns about the device, the insertion procedure and the risks. Asking questions — and getting accurate answers — can help alleviate anxieties. These frequently asked questions (FAQs) can help patients have informed conversations with physicians.
An IVC filter, also called an inferior vena cava filter, is a small metallic device that is placed in the inferior vena cava (the largest vein in the body) to prevent blood clots from moving from the legs to the heart and lungs.
IVC filters are used in patients who are at risk of developing blood clots in the legs, or who have a history of blood clots in the deep veins (deep vein thrombosis) or in the lungs (pulmonary embolism). Any condition that slows blood flow through the veins can put a patient at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), including trauma, recent surgery, immobility or pregnancy.
There is no surgical incision. IVC filters are inserted using catheters. The insertion site does not require stitches. Also, the IVC filter has a high success rate in preventing pulmonary embolism in patients who have not previously had success with, or cannot be given, conventional medical treatments, such as blood thinner medications.
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There is always a risk of infection in any procedure where the skin is penetrated. Other risks related to the insertion of a catheter include damage to the blood vessel, and bruising or bleeding at the insertion site. IVC filters carry their own risks as well. Patients should discuss all risks of the procedure specific to their case with their doctor.
In most cases, a patient is not required to stop taking blood thinners or change the dosage prior to an IVC filter placement or removal procedure. Each patient is different, however, and should speak with their doctor about all prescription and non-prescriptions medications or supplements they are currently taking. Patients taking insulin may have to adjust the dosage before the procedure. Diuretics, taken to increase urination, may need to be stopped the day of the procedure.
Certain medications, including blood thinners, aspirin and NSAIDs, may need to be stopped, or treatment regimens changed, prior to an IVC filter placement procedure.
Patients are usually advised not to eat or drink after midnight the day of their procedure. Water is usually allowed in moderation up until two hours before the procedure. Patients should avoid eating a large or heavy meal the night before their procedure.
A local anesthetic is typically given intravenously, or through an IV, to prevent pain in the specific area where the IV filter will be placed. A sedative, also administered by IV, can be given in the alternative. Both medications will make the patient feel sleepy and relaxed.
Most patients are discharged from the hospital between three to four hours after the procedure. An overnight stay is rarely required for observation.
No. Patients should arrange for a ride or to have someone take them home after the procedure.
Patients may feel tired or experience pain for several days after an IVC filter placement or removal procedure. Rest and over-the-counter pain medicines can help to relieve these symptoms. Most patients can resume physical activities, such as biking, jogging, weight-lifting or aerobic exercise, after one to two days, or when the doctor gives his or her approval. Drink plenty of water after the procedure, and check with your doctor about when you can resume taking certain medicines.
Recovery time from an IVC filter placement procedure is generally short, typically lasting less than one week.
The site where the IVC filter was inserted should remain bandaged for at least the first day, or as otherwise advised by your doctor. Bruising may be apparent. Ice not applied directly to the skin can be used for 10 to 20 minutes at a time several times a day to reduce pain and swelling.
A follow-up appointment will generally take place between four to six weeks after the procedure. Patients should call their doctor right away if they develop fever, chest pain, persistent headache or nausea, pain around the insertion site that doesn’t go away after taking medicine, or bleeding, drainage, redness or swelling at the insertion site.
In most cases, when it is no longer needed, the IVC filter can, and should, (to avoid long-term complications) be removed (when it is the removable type). When scar tissue has formed, embedding the IVC filter to the vein, it can make removal difficult or impossible. In such cases, the IVC filter may remain in place.
Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.
Kristin Compton is a medical writer with a background in legal studies. She has experience working in law firms as a paralegal and legal writer. She also has worked in journalism and marketing. She’s published numerous articles in a northwest Florida-based newspaper and lifestyle/entertainment magazine, as well as worked as a ghost writer on blog posts published online by a Central Florida law firm in the health law niche. As a patient herself, and an advocate, Kristin is passionate about “being a voice” for others.
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