IVC Filters: Get the Facts


August 21, 2018 02:28 PM

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Imagine coming home, turning on the TV, and getting ready for a relaxing night… but then, you hear it. “If you or a loved one have had an inferior vena cava filter, you may be entitled to compensation…” Wait, that’s me; I have an IVC filter! On screen you see an image of an IVC filter with bombs going off, immediately creating a sense of panic. Your relaxing night is now full of anxiety, and you can’t help but wonder, “is there a ticking time bomb in my abdomen that’s about to go off?” It’s true there is a potential for harm, but there is no need to panic. IVC filters are usually easy to remove and there’s a very slim chance you’ll need one for the rest of your life.

WHAT IS AN IVC FILTER?

Let’s take a step back, what even is an IVC filter? Dr. Derek Mittleider, a Spectrum Healthcare Partners Interventional Radiologist here in Maine, has the facts for us. Use of modern IVC filters began in the 1980’s, with roughly 60,000 inserted per year in the US. To get an idea of what an IVC filter looks like, imagine an umbrella with only the wire frame. This small device is then placed in a large vein in your abdomen to prevent blood clots in your leg from travelling upwards to your heart. If a blood clot should reach your heart, it could cause serious health complications, making IVC filters an important part of preventing that from occurring.

While IVC filters are a useful way to treat blood clots, they aren’t the first choice of many doctors. Most doctors agree that blood thinners are the gold standard of blood clot treatment, so why even use IVC filters? While blood thinners are the first choice, they are not always a viable option. This is usually in the case of an accident with a large loss of blood or if a person has a pre-existing condition which prevents them from using blood thinners. Doctors recommend removing your IVC filter once you’re able to begin use of blood thinners. The most common reason someone has an IVC filter for longer than necessary is simply because they forget about it.

IVC filters are a quick fix for blood clots, but that’s all it should be, quick. They are useful in protecting you from the danger of a travelling blood clot, but don’t forget about them. Don’t wait for a commercial to remind you of your IVC filter and cause you to worry. Removal is usually a quick procedure with very low risk.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Of course, there are risks, but when aren’t there? Risks from IVC filters increase the longer they are in, so you can reduce your risks by removing the device as soon as possible. But what could happen if it’s left in? The first possibility is due to the nature of the device. IVC filters are constantly exerting an outward force, which creates the potential to break through the wall of your vein. If this should happen, the “legs” of the filter could hit any of its surroundings, including your bowel or spine. Another risk of leaving an IVC filter in for too long is that it could break. These broken pieces could then travel up towards your heart, doing the exact opposite of what the IVC filter was put in place to prevent. As long as you remove your filter as soon as possible, your chances of either scenario occurring are very slim.

REMOVAL – experience matters

Most IVC filters are only meant for short term use; it’s extremely rare to have an IVC filter that you cannot remove. Completed with the use of local anesthesia, the actual removal is usually a quick, and easy, outpatient procedure. A broken or migrated IVC filter may complicate the removal procedure, but it does not make it impossible. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve had your filter, you can remove it at any time; Dr. Mittleider has even removed an IVC filter that was 20 years old! If you’re unsure about whether to remove your IVC filter, schedule a consultation with an Interventional Radiologist who can help you decide.

Don’t live by the philosophy “if I can’t see or feel it, then it must be okay,” as quite frankly, there is no reason to keep an IVC filter in long term. Our Spectrum Healthcare Partners physicians are particularly experienced in IVC removal, having removed over 95% of all IVC filters in the state. They have the knowledge and expertise to ensure you’re in safe hands and no longer need to worry about the potential harmful effects of an IVC filter.