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Study Questions Actual Worth of IVC Filters for Trauma Patients

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A medical study published in the October 2015 issue of the Annals of Surgery takes a closer look at whether trauma patients actually benefit from having inferior vena cava (IVC) filters implanted, or instead face a greater risk of life-threatening complications associated with the filters themselves.

The study, conducted by University of Michigan researchers who examined patient data from 2010 to 2014 and identified 803 cases in which trauma patients were implanted with IVC filters to reduce the risk of pulmonary embolism (PE). The researchers found:

  • While the patients who were implanted with the IVC filters had an 83 percent increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), they did not have a statistically significant increase in longevity, as compared to patients who were not implanted with IVC filters.
  • High rates of prophylactic IVC filter placement had essentially no effect whatsoever in reducing trauma patient mortality and were actually associated with an increase in DVT events.

The Theory Behind IVC Filters

Over the past 30 years, the use of the IVC filter has increased in popularity. While just 2,000 filters were placed between the proximal vessels of the lower extremities and the right side of the heart in 1979, in 1990, over 120,000 IVC filters had been implanted in patients in the U.S. By the end of the decade, nearly 50,000 IVC filters were being implanted each year.

Based on principle, the IVC filter should work, yet this theory has never been validated through practical studies, and according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in April 2013, only one randomized controlled trial of the IVC filter was ever performed, with the results published in 1998 and an eight-year follow-up reported in 2005. The article suggested that additional studies would occur only if they are funded by the federal government, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires them to maintain continued clearance of the device.