IVC filters were first introduced to the market in 1979, with their use increasing continuously over the years. By the year 2012, doctors inserted roughly 259,000 filters in patients. Many of these IVC filters were produced by the medical manufacturing companies C. R. Bard and Cook Medical, both of which are now the focus of litigation alleging the manufacturers were negligent in the design and promotion of their filters.
The IVC filter is designed to prevent potentially fatal pulmonary embolisms in predisposed patients, and is indicated for use in patients presenting with either deep venous thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism.
Deep venous thrombosis, or DVT, refers to a blood clot that develops deep within the pelvis or lower and upper extremities of a patient. While generally not fatal, DVTs can cause death if the clot travels to the lungs, cutting off normal blood flow to the patient’s lungs. When a blockage in a lung occurs as a result of such a blood clot, it is referred to as a pulmonary embolism (PE). Pulmonary embolisms are the third most common cause of death in hospital patients.
The inferior vena cava, which is the largest vein in the body, is responsible for moving de-oxygenated blood from the lower legs to the heart and then to the lungs. In order to prevent blood clots within the vein from reaching the lungs and resulting in a PE, doctors may implant an inferior vena cava filter, or IVC filter, in the patient’s vein.
The device, which resembles a small metal cage, is surgically inserted through a small incision in the neck or groin by using a catheter. Once implanted, the IVC filter’s metal wires capture and trap blood clots, preventing them from reaching the lungs.
Some IVC filters are permanent, while others are temporary. In the case of temporary filters, doctors can remove the filters similarly to how they implanted them, by inserting a catheter-like snare into the vein, hooking it around the filter, and removing the filter from the vein.
Temporary, or retrievable, IVC filters are designed to provide only short-term protection. They are designed to be removed from a patient’s body once the patient is no longer at risk for a pulmonary embolism. Unfortunately, retrievable IVC filters are now known to cause complications including blood vessel and organ perforation and filter migration.