What is an implantable vena cava filter?

Patients who are at high risk for a pulmonary embolism (PE) are candidates for a vena cava filter. A vena cava filter is a device that is implanted in the inferior vena cava — the vein that returns blood to the heart from the lower body — that prevents blood clots that originated in the legs or lower body from entering the pulmonary veins. If a blood clot travels to the lungs from the lower body, it could block the flow of blood to the lungs and cause death.

How is a vena cava filter implanted?

A vena cava filter can be implanted as an outpatient procedure. During the implantation, your vascular surgeon will use a catheter to implant a filter into the inferior vena cava. Your doctor will determine if you need a permanent or temporary vena cava filter and will remove it if you no longer need it.

Who is a candidate for a vena cava filter?

Vena cava filters are recommended for patients who are high risk for developing a pulmonary embolism and are not able to take blood-thinner medications.  

What are benefits of having a vena cava filter implanted?

A vena cava filter can save your life by blocking a life-threatening blood clot from reaching your lungs. 

What are risks of having a vena cava filter implanted?

Although having a vena cava filter implanted is generally a safe procedure, there are risks associated with any surgical procedure. 

Risks associated with implanting a vena cava filter include:

  • Bleeding from the site where the filter is placed into the vein
  • Filter allowing a blood clot to get through the filter which leads to a pulmonary embolism
  • Complete vein blockage from too many clots caught in the filter

Your vascular surgeon will outline these risks and how to prevent complications from occurring before he implants the filter.

Recovery after having a vena cava filter implanted

A vena cava filter implantation takes approximately one to two hours. Depending on the severity of your case and your reaction to the surgery, you may be able to go home that day, or you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two.

After the implantation procedure, you will be given pain medication and antibiotics to prevent infection. Once you are given the clear to go home, you should monitor the site where the catheter was placed in your body for infection, pain or swelling. It is important to keep the blood flowing through the vessels, so walking a few times a day is recommended. Avoid lifting heavy objects or returning to a manual labor occupation until you have the clearance from your surgeon. Also avoid driving until your doctor has cleared you to do so.

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