The inferior vena cava filter (IVC filter) is a medical device implanted by surgeons to prevent blood clots from traveling to the lungs or heart and causing serious related complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism. Today, it is more common for surgeons to place a retrievable IVC filter than a permanent one. The reason for this is that the risk of embolization and other related complications increase the longer an IVC filter remains in your body.
Most blood clots originate in the legs, and the goal of the IVC filter is to break blood clots apart to prevent migration. People receive IVC filter placement because they cannot tolerate anticoagulation blood thinning medication. Typically, inferior vena cava filter placement occurs through the largest vein in the abdomen. Abdominal pain is a common side effect and not necessarily a related complication.
The consensus among medical experts is that a retrievable IVC filter should only remain in place for two to three months, especially for patients at high risk of developing related complications. Unfortunately, too many doctors are not engaging in proper follow-up with their patients. The lack of follow-up after implantation of the IVC filter is one of the biggest risk factors for whether patients go on to develop related complications.
Even if you have not experienced complications of inferior vena cava filters, you may suffer from anxiety knowing it could still happen.
Common Complications of Retrievable Inferior Vena Cava Filters
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first issued a warning about IVC filters. In 2014, the FDA issued another warning. The same year, the Journal of Cardiovascular Diagnosis & Therapy released a statement that indicated IVC filters were generally safe and presented a low risk of complications. This was with the caveat that patients who receive IVC filters must receive proper follow-up care. Obviously, follow-up care does not always happen. By early 2020, thousands of people had filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the Greenfield filter, Bard filter, and similar IVC filter medical devices.
Dr. William Kao has treated patients who developed deep vein thrombosis or another serious health condition after the surgical implantation of an IVC Filter. Dr. Kao is a Sanford University School of Medicine Professor of Interventional Radiology and practices as an interventional radiologist.
Dr. Kao was part of a team of medical researchers who developed an advanced procedure to removal IVC filters after they had become imbedded in the patient’s body. This was necessary because the typical surgery for IVC filter removal is not effective for patients with embedded IVC medical devices. Unfortunately, the newly designed IVC filters has thus far not reduced the number who report related complications.
Due to the ongoing lack of follow-up care, some asymptomatic people have silent symptoms that they never report. Doctors also do not always recognize related complications of IVC filter placement. Because of these factors, the incidence of complications of inferior vena cava filters is likely more widespread than it appears. We discuss some of the most commonly reported related complications of IVC filter placement below.
Related Complications of Retrievable Inferior Vena Cava Filters
It is important to understand that IVC filter related complications may not appear right away. Some people experience abdominal pain immediately after IVC filter placement while others go several years before any related complications appear. If you have had an IVC filter in place for several years, we recommend that you contact your doctor for follow-up.
Your doctor can refer you to a local surgeon for additional follow-up if it appears that you have developed related complications. Should you require IVC filter removal, know that most surgeons now use a minimally invasive method that only requires an incision of less than one centimeter. Minimally invasive surgery prevents the need for open vascular surgery or recovering from a large and potentially painful incision. Here are some of the most issues patients have reported after IVC filter implantation.
- Abdominal pain and/or back pain: The typical cause of abdominal pain or back pain after IVC filter placement is penetration of the medical device through blood vessels. The IVC filter can also impinge nerves near the implantation site or penetrate nearby organs.
- Breakage, migration, or tilting of the IVC filter: The IVC filter itself can be the cause of related complications. For example, the surgeon could have implanted the IVC filter in the wrong place, it could sit at a tilt, fail to open completely, or migrate beyond the implantation point. IVC filter migration occurs when the medical device moves two or more centimeters from its implantation point. You could also experience IVC filter fracture due to everyday repetitive stress. Although rare, migration of an IVC filter to the heart or its ventricles is a medical emergency that can be life-threatening without prompt IVC filter retrieval.
- Caval thrombosis, which describes a blood clot that develops in the vena cava.
- Deep venous thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a vein of the lower body. You have a high risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) if a surgeon performed IVC filter placement more than two years ago.
- Embolization can occur when an IVC filter breaks free from its implantation point and its pieces travel to the lungs or heart. The physical pain of embolization feels similar to a heart attack. You should seek immediate medical help for possible embolization if you experience weakness, shortness of breath, acute chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat.
- Failure of IVC filter to open: A defective IVC filter may never open completely, which increases the risk of related complications such as blood clots or deep venous thrombosis. The titanium Greenfield IVC filter appears to be the biggest offender in this area, failing to open completely nearly three-fourths of the time. An unopened IVC filter is up to 80 percent less efficient and can allow smaller blood clots to slip by and enter the lungs or heart. You have a high risk of developing a pulmonary embolism once a blood clot reaches the lungs.
- IVC filter becomes embedded in a vein. This can cause vein scarring leading to vessel occlusion that puts you at high risk for a future stroke.
- IVC filter fracture can occur from normal daily wear on the medical device. This can cause perforation through a vein. Perforation occurs more often with retrievable IVC filters than permanent IVC filters. Perforation of the aorta, duodenum, or renal pelvis are rare, but patients have reported this IVC filter related complication.
- Significant leg pain due to several blood clots becoming lodged in the IVC filter. Skin ulceration and darkening are common signs of trapped blood clots.
The above represent just some of the most common IVC filter related complications. You may still retain eligibility to file a personal injury lawsuit even if you do not see your specific complication listed here.