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The dangers of IVC filters: What you need to know

Patients with a high risk for blood clots often take prescribed drugs, like Warfarin, Pradaza or Xarelto, to thin their blood and prevent blood clots. This often include patients who have a history or are at risk for developing blood clots due to having deep vein thrombosis, after a traumatic incident, after recent surgery or giving birth or immobility.

Patients who cannot or do not benefit from taking anticoagulants, or blood thinners, have had an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter implanted to prevent a blood clot from traveling to their lungs, known as a pulmonary embolism. IVC filters were touted as life-saving for many patients. Unfortunately, these devices are now linked to serious and even fatal complications for patients in Washington and throughout the United States and Canada.

The risks to patients led to Health Canada recently issuing a safety warning about the use of IVC filters after serious complications and deaths were reported in patients with these devices. Health Canada is an organization similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How do IVC filters work?

The metal wire device is implanted in the patient's inferior vena cava, which is the large vein in your abdomen. This is the vein that delivers blood to the heart. The filter works as a net to trap large blood clots that could travel to the heart and cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal.

IVC filters are either temporary or permanent, depending on the patient's specific health care needs. Temporary filters area meant to be retrieved or taken out of a patient as their health condition changes. However, the device is sometimes difficult to remove and can lead to complications the longer it is in a patient's body is some cases.

Permanent filters are often used in patients who have permanent or chronic conditions that create a high risk for a pulmonary embolism and their doctor has recommended this device as the best course of treatment.

Filters that are not placed correctly or moved can cause serious and even fatal complications. Some of the reported complications include:

  • Puncture of a vein
  • Puncture of an organ
  • Internal bleeding
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Access site thrombosis
  • Caval or vein penetration

These are serious risks that should not be taken lightly by doctors or patients. The risks of IVC filters continue to cause alarm and have already led to patients in the U.S. and Canada filing lawsuits against some manufacturers. In some lawsuits, plaintiffs have said the devices broke apart inside their bodies and posed life-threatening risks.

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