Inferior vena cava filters, also known as IVC filters, are medical devices that were developed for use in patients who are at risk for blood clots but who aren’t able to take medications for their treatment. The devices have become very popular because once implanted in the body’s largest vein (the inferior vena cava), they catch clots that travel from other parts of the body and prevent them from entering the heart or lungs, where they would be deadly. But the devices have been linked to a number of serious and often fatal side effects, and now two studies have raised additional concerns about their use.
The first study on IVC filters was conducted by researchers at Humana Inc., who found that the devices are being used far more than is medically necessary and that this is particularly true for those patients who are in managed care. The Humana study discovered that the device was being implanted in patients who were taking anticoagulants. This is both specifically contradictory to its clinical practice guidelines and a great concern because the study also showed that those who had the device implanted were at higher risk for needing hospitalization again in the future than those who did not have the IVC filters implanted. It also found that only a small percentage of patients who had the IVC filters implanted actually had them removed.
IVC Filters Are Overused, Difficult to Retrieve, and Potentially Dangerous
The second study on IVC filters confirmed that the devices are retrieved far too infrequently – less than 30% are removed after they have been implanted – and that the more times goes by between implantation and retrieval, the more difficult the surgery becomes. Working with colleagues, Dr. Kush Desai of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that when the IVC filters are in place for more than seven months they become much more difficult to remove, and that standard surgical retrieval techniques have to be abandoned in favor of more advanced methods.
There have been numerous warnings about the IVC filters since they were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The spider-like metal device has been known to break, allowing metal fragments to move throughout the blood stream and cause harm. In 2014 the agency indicated that if it is not removed between 29 and 54 days after implantation the risks of the device begin to outweigh its benefits.