Vena Cava Filters

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Inferior vena cava filter placement is an interventional procedure that uses X-ray pictures to allow your doctor to place a small filter in your inferior vena cava, or IVC. The IVC is a large vein in the abdomen that returns blood from the lower body to the heart.

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that develops in the veins of the leg or pelvis. At times, part of the blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs. The IVC filter traps the blood clot fragments and helps prevent blood clots from going to your heart and lungs where they could cause serious harm. When a blood clot is in the lung, it is called a pulmonary embolism (PE). Learn more about pulmonary embolism symptoms.

Until recently, when a vena cava filter was placed, it was left in the blood vessel permanently. Newer filters can be left in permanently or removed if your risk of having a blood clot has resolved. Your doctor will decide which filter is best for you. 

How is a Vena Cava Filter Placement Performed?

During this procedure, a long, narrow tube called a catheter is inserted through a plastic introducer sheath (a short, hollow tube that is inserted into a blood vessel in your groin/leg or neck). With this procedure, there usually is no incision, but a puncture from the hollow tube instead.

The catheter is guided through the blood vessel to the inferior vena cava vein with the aid of a special X-ray machine. A small amount of contrast material is then injected through the catheter and X-ray pictures are created as the contrast moves through the veins. The X-ray pictures of the contrast material are used to identify where the doctor is going to place the filter. 

Preparing for Your Vena Cava Filter Placement

Usually the IVC filter placement is done as an inpatient procedure. Rarely this is scheduled as an outpatient procedure where you will come into the hospital the day of your procedure. If you are scheduled as an outpatient, your doctor may ask you to stop taking some of your medication before the procedure. Please bring all of your home medications with you, including over-the-counter.

When you arrive for your appointment, please tell your nurse if you have been taking blood thinner medication, diuretics (water pill) or insulin. Please tell the staff if you are allergic to anything, especially X-ray dye, penicillin-type medications, and latex or rubber. The doctor will give you specific instructions about what you can or cannot eat or drink before the procedure. Depending on the time of your procedure, you may be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before.

The IVC filter placement usually takes less than one hour to perform. You should plan on staying in the hospital at least overnight.

There are many things that need to be done to get you ready for your procedure. You will be asked to arrive up to three hours before your scheduled procedure time. Once you arrive, you will be taken to your pre-procedural room. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown so that we can prepare you for the procedure.

Some of the things we must do to prepare you for your procedure include drawing the blood work your doctor has ordered and starting IV fluids to help protect your kidney function. The staff will start an IV line in your arm so that we can give you IV fluids before and during the procedure. You may also have an EKG or chest X-ray. Your caregiver may need to clip or shave some of your body hair where the doctor will be working. We keep you covered as much as possible, but please tell us if you are uncomfortable at any point.

If this is a longer procedure, you may have a urinary catheter placed. This usually is removed right after your bed rest is finished.

Once you have had all the labs, IV’s and X-rays are done, and you have changed into a gown, you will then be ready for the procedure. Most of the time your procedure will go as scheduled. Sometimes, there might be a delay due to an unexpected event. If this happens, we will keep you informed and we will try to make you as comfortable as possible until you go for your procedure.

What to Expect During the Procedure

When you enter the cath lab, you will be wearing a hospital gown. We will give you warm blankets to help keep you comfortable. You will be asked to lie on a narrow table. We will put some safety straps around you to keep you safe. We will attach EKG patches to your chest to monitor your heartbeat during the procedure. We will then wash and clip hair from the area that your doctor will be working from. Your blood pressure will also be checked at intervals.

You may receive a mild sedative to help you relax, but you will be awake and conscious during the procedure. The room will be dimly lit. A large camera and several TV monitors will hang above the table. A doctor will numb the groin or neck site where he will be placing the sheath. The sheath is like a long IV, or the hollow tube described above. This is the place where the doctor will guide other equipment into the blood vessel with the help of the X-ray machine.

After the sheath is inserted, you will be given IV contrast, a liquid containing iodine. This helps your blood vessels show up more clearly on the X-ray film. You may feel a warm sensation when the contrast liquid is given.

As each X-ray picture is taken, you may be asked to lie still or hold your breath. Movement can result in blurry pictures. The doctor will then place the vena cava filter. You should not experience discomfort with this, but if you are uncomfortable at any time, please tell the nurse caring for you. When finished with the procedure, your doctor will speak with your family if they are here with you.

Vena Cava Filter Recovery Time

Following the procedure, you will have the sheath removed. This requires you to lie flat while we pull the sheath out. Afterwards, we will hold pressure in this area for up to 10 minutes or more, to make sure that there is no bleeding. Your instructions will vary depending on whether your sheath was inserted into your neck or groin area. Typically you will be on bed rest for up to 2 hours after the procedure. If the doctor used the groin you will be asked to keep that leg straight while on bed rest. You will then be sent to your hospital room.

It is important to drink plenty of water after the procedure to help eliminate the contrast agent through your kidneys. Before you are discharged, you will be given instructions on your medication, when to follow up with your doctor, and how to care for your procedure site before you leave the hospital.

Leading the Region in Cardiac Procedures

Aurora Health Care performs many cardiac procedures each year. With this high volume comes expertise. Our patients have access to some of the nation’s most respected cardiac teams.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.