When Should an IVC Filter Be Used to Treat a DVT?


A 67-year-old man with a history of hypertension presents with a swollen right lower extremity. An ultrasound reveals a DVT, and he is commenced on low-molecular-weight heparin and warfarin. Two days later, he develops slurred speech and right-sided weakness. A head CT reveals an intracranial hemorrhage. When should an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter be utilized for treatment of DVT?


It is estimated that 350,000 to 600,000 Americans develop a VTE each year.1 Patients with a DVT are at high risk of developing a pulmonary embolism (PE). In a multicenter study, nearly 40% of patients admitted with a DVT had evidence of a PE on ventilation perfusion scan.2 Treatment of a DVT is aimed at preventing the extension of the DVT and embolization.3 The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recommends anticoagulation as the primary DVT treatment (Grade 1A).4 However, IVC filters might be considered when anticoagulation is contraindicated.

KEY Points

  • There is a scarcity of robust evidence in favor of using IVC filters to manage DVT.
  • ACCP guidelines recommend IVC filter use in patients who cannot be anticoagulated due to bleeding risks.
  • There is insufficient data to support the use of IVC filters for such situations as recurrent VTE on anticoagulation, recurrent PE with pulmonary hypertension, extensive free-floating ilio-femoral thrombus, and post-thrombolysis of ilio-caval thrombus.
  • If the contraindication to anticoagulation is temporary, a retrievable IVC filter is preferred.
  • If an IVC filter is placed and the anticoagulant contra-indication resolves, anticoagulation should be resumed.

Additional Reading

  • Kearon C, Kahn SR, Agnelli G, Goldhaber S, Raskob GE, Comerota AJ, American College of Chest Physicians. Antithrom-botic therapy for venous theomboembolic disease: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (8th Edition). Chest. 2008;133(6 Suppl):454S-545S.
  • Hann CL, Streiff MB. The role of vena caval filters in the management of venous thromboembolism. Blood Rev. 2005;19(4):179-202.
  • Crowther MA. Inferior vena cava filters in the management of venous thromboembolism. Am J Med. 2007;120 (10Suppl 2):S13–S17.

In 1868, Trousseau created the conceptual model of surgical interruption of the IVC to prevent PE. However, it wasn’t until 1959 by Bottini that the surgical interruption was successfully performed.5 The Mobin-Uddin filter was introduced in 1967 as the first mechanical IVC filter.6 IVC filters mechanically trap the DVT, preventing emboli from traveling into the pulmonary vasculature.7

There are two classes of IVC filters: permanent filters and removable filters. Removable filters include both temporary filters and retrievable filters. Temporary filters are attached to a catheter that exits the skin and therefore must be removed due to the risk of infection and embolization.7 Retrievable filters are similar in design to permanent filters but are designed to be removed. However, this must be done with caution, as neointimal hyperplasia can prevent removal or cause vessel wall damage upon removal.8

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