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What are IVC Filters?

Retrievable inferior vena cava filters (IVC filters) are small, metal devices designed to stop a blood clot from traveling to the lungs. The device resembles a metal cage and is surgically inserted into a patient’s vein. Most patients take blood thinners to stop blood clots, but doctors use IVCs on patients who can’t use blood thinners.

The device was introduced in 1979, and its use increased continuously through the years. By 2012, doctors inserted approximately 259,000 filters in patients.

IVC Filters and Blood Clots

Blood clots that develop deep inside the pelvis, lower and upper extremities are referred to as deep venous thrombosis, or DVTs. DVTs do not usually threaten life. However, they can cause death when they travel to the lungs and cut off normal blood flow to a person’s lungs. When a blood clot causes a blockage in a lung, it is referred to as a pulmonary embolism (PE). PEs cause about 300,000 deaths every year – the third-most common cause of death in hospital patients. Some IVC filters designed to stave off the traveling of blood clots work better than others. Some filters even migrate away from their surgically positioned location, rendering them ineffective. Sometimes the device itself punctures a vein, causing bleeding and other complications. Surgeons place the filters with the best intentions but keep an eye out for issues that can stem from filter procedures.

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