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A vena cava filter is a device to trap a blood clot in the lower body to prevent it from going into the lungs. You may need a vena cava filter if you’re at risk for a pulmonary embolism (PE). This occurs when a blood clot that has formed in the legs travels to the lungs and gets stuck in a blood vessel. This can block blood flow in the lungs and be fatal. During vena cava filter implantation, a thin tube called a catheter is used to place (implant) a filter in the inferior vena cava (IVC). The IVC is a large vein in the abdomen that returns blood from the lower body to the heart and lungs. Some vena cava filters are permanent. Others are temporary and can be removed when no longer needed. This sheet explains how the filter is placed in the body. The procedure may be done while you’re already in the hospital for other health reasons. Or, in some cases, it may be done as a same-day (outpatient) procedure. Your doctor can tell you more about the specifics of your case.
Tell your doctor if you:
Take any medications. This includes over-the-counter drugs. It also includes herbs and other supplements. You may need to stop taking some or all of them before the procedure.
Are allergic to any medications. Also mention if you are allergic to iodine, contrast fluid (dye), or if you have ever had a reaction to substances used during other tests or procedures.
Have other health problems, such as diabetes or kidney problems.
Are pregnant or may be pregnant.
Follow any directions you’re given for not eating or drinking before the procedure.
The procedure takes about 1-2 hours. You may need to stay or be admitted into the hospital for one or more days afterward. Or, you may be able to go home on the same day.
Before the procedure begins:
An IV line is put into a vein in your arm or hand. This line supplies fluids and medications.
You’ll be given medication (anesthesia) to keep you free of pain during the procedure. You’ll likely receive sedation, which makes you relaxed and sleepy.
During the procedure:
The insertion site for the catheter is numbed with medication. This site may be in the groin or neck.
A small puncture (hole) is made in the numbed skin.
The catheter is inserted through the puncture and into a vein that feeds into the IVC.
X-rays or ultrasound are used to show live pictures of the path from the insertion site into the IVC. If x-rays are used, contrast fluid is first injected through the catheter. The contrast fluid helps make the vein more visible on the x-rays. If ultrasound is used, gel is first applied to the skin. A device called a transducer is then moved over the skin. It sends pictures of the blood vessels to a video screen.
Once the catheter is positioned, the filter is then passed through the catheter and placed in the IVC.
After the filter is securely attached, the catheter is removed. Pressure is applied to the insertion site to stop any bleeding. A bandage is then placed over the site.
After the procedure:
You’ll be taken to a recovery room to rest. There, you’ll be given medications to manage pain and prevent infection. You may be taken to your hospital room. Or, you may be released to go home after several hours. Have an adult family member or friend ready to drive you home, if needed.
Once at home, follow any instructions you’ve been given. Be sure to:
Take all medications as directed.
Care for the catheter insertion site as directed.
Check for signs of infection at the catheter insertion site (see below).
Walk at least a few times a day. Increase your pace and distance as you feel able. This helps improve blood flow and reduce the risk of blood clots.
Avoid heavy lifting and other strenuous activities as directed.
Avoid driving until your doctor says it’s okay. Do not drive if you’re taking medications that make you drowsy or sleepy.
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider
Swelling in your neck, chest pain, or trouble breathing
Signs of infection at the catheter insertion site, such as increased redness, swelling, warmth, worsening pain, bleeding, or foul-smelling drainage
Changes in color, temperature, feeling, or movement in either leg
Constant or increasing pain in the leg
Numbness in the leg
Leg swelling that develops after the procedure
The doctor who ordered the procedure will follow up with you and check how well you’re healing. This may be while you’re in the hospital. Or, if you went home after the procedure, you may have a follow-up appointment with your doctor within a week.
Bleeding or infection at the catheter insertion site
Damage to the vein used for the procedure
Problems due to contrast fluid, such as allergic reaction or kidney damage
Incorrect placement of the filter
Filter may become clogged with clots and block blood flow in the IVC, which may cause severe leg swelling
Filter may break
Filter may loosen, change location, or float to another location in the body such as the heart or lungs
Risks of anesthesia or other medications used during the procedure