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The vena caval filter is a "trap" that is placed into the vena cava, the main vein
in the body which is located in the abdominal cavity. The filter is positioned in
the vena cava by passing it (under x-ray guidance) from a vein in the neck or leg.
The filter is designed to trap clots that may move from a vein in the leg or pelvis
before they can reach the lungs and cause major morbidity or death. Vena caval filters
are effective in preventing death. They are used if, in the judgment of the vascular
surgeon, the patient is at high risk for a pulmonary embolus or if there is some
reason that blood thinners cannot be used to treat the lower extremity DVT (See
Most IVC filters are permanent, but filters are now available that are "retrievable."
Retrievable filters are designed in such a way that allows them to potentially be
pulled back into a catheter and removed from the body, usually through the jugular
vein. When surgeons have made a judgement that the period of risk for pulmonary
embolism is past, consideration can be given for removal of the vena caval filter
in some instances. Not all “retrievable” filters are able to be removed, however.
There is a risk of damage of the vena cava during the removal process. The surgeon
must make a decision regarding the advisability of filter removal and that decision
must be individualized for each particular patient.