Surgeons will insert inferior vena cava (IVC) filters in patients with uncontrollable high blood pressure who are unable to tolerate blood thinners (anticoagulants) and are at risk for an embolism. They are also used to treat deep vein thrombosis, blood clots often found in the legs that can also lead to an embolism.
IVC filters are placed in the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower body to the right atrium of the heart. It’s also known as the posterior vena cava.
Do You Have an IVC Filter? These Symptoms Indicate It Might Be Broken!
Most IVCs are designed for short-term use and are supposed to be removed once a patient’s risk for embolism is reduced. However, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered, they are often left in for years at a time, raising the potential for adverse events.
If you have had an IVC filter implanted, be on the lookout for these symptoms and report them to your physician immediately:
Back and abdominal pain. This has been found in virtually all patients where fragments have broken off from the filters and traveled to organs.
Swollen or painful legs. Leg pain and swelling may indicate the filter has become clogged.
Upper body pain. IVC filter struts have been known to break off and travel into the heart causing a range of symptoms:
Chest or neck pain
Shortness of breath
Not All IVC Filter Complications Come With Symptoms
Blood vessels don’t have nerve endings, so fragments traveling through them won’t be painful until they cause swelling.
In addition, small movements by filters may not trigger symptoms, but these movements can make small tears in major veins. Over time, these tears can expand and trigger cardiac emergencies.
Why Do IVC Filters Break?
Retrievable IVCs that are left in for too long can break, probably due to the weakening of the metal used to manufacture them, according to a four-year study at York Hospital in York, Pennsylvania and reported in MedPage Todayin 2010.
That year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an Alert about adverse events in retrievable IVC filters. According to MedPage Today, the FDA reported that it received hundreds of reports about adverse events in IVC filters including fractures, migrations, perforation into the vena cava itself, and filter embolization.
Many problems came from IVC filters made by Bard, now part of Becton-Dickinson. The York Hospital study released the same day as the FDA Alert, found that 25% of patients treated with one Bard device experienced fragmentation and embolization. Filter fragments broke off and traveled through the venous system into the end organs in all these patients, MedPage Today reported.
Another 12% suffered the same results after a second-generation device was implanted in them. The York Hospital researchers concluded that the metal construction of the filters broke down with time.
In 2014, the FDA released a safety communication about the dangers of leaving retrievable IVC filters in patients after their risk has been reduced. It cited research that shows the filters’ effectiveness begins to wane between 29 and 54 days after they are implanted.
Ask Your Physician How Long the Filter Will Stay Inside You
Talk to your physician about how long an IVC filter will stay inside you. Ask about follow-up x-rays or CAT scans to monitor the filter.