Background: Preventing pulmonary embolization by interrupting vena caval flow has been attempted since 1893. Inferior vena cava (IVC) filters have been available for 20 years, and currently there are five filters commercially available in the United States (Greenfield filter, Titanium Greenfield filter, Simon-Nitinol filter, Bird's Nest filter, and LGM or Vena Tech filter) and two other filters under development (Amplatz filter and Günther filter). Although these devices are widely used, their clinical utility and safety have not been completely evaluated. Controlled clinical trials to determine the clinical role for IVC filters have not been attempted, but numerous case series describing the outcomes of the seven current filters have been published. We have systematically reviewed these studies to clarify what is known about the indications, safety, and effectiveness of IVC filters.
Methods: Using the MEDLINE database, all English-language publications since 1970 that included follow-up clinical information after filter insertion were reviewed and eight methodologic guidelines were employed to assess the scientific quality of the clinical information.
Results: Twenty-four case series were reviewed: 16 concerned the Greenfield filter (1632 patients), and eight dealt with newer designs (925 patients). Commonly noted methodologic problems included failure to report the initial extent of thromboembolic disease, incomplete description of the patient assembly process, and incomplete and potentially biased outcome assessment. Recurrent clinical pulmonary embolism was rare after filter placement, and only eight deaths from pulmonary embolism were reported. Filter complications were common but rarely life threatening; four (0.16%) deaths from filter complications were noted among the reviewed studies. Thrombotic complications following filter placement included insertion-site deep vein thrombosis and IVC obstruction. These events were rare, but they occurred with all filter types.
Conclusions: Inferior vena cava filters appear to be effective in preventing recurrent pulmonary embolism. Despite the large published experience with IVC filters, many questions remain about their indications, safety, and effectiveness. Anticoagulant therapy, if not contraindicated, should be used in conjunction with filters. While there is no ideal filter, some situations call for specific filters. Filter selection and insertion require experience, modern angiographic technique, and collaboration between clinicians caring for patients and the interventional radiologists or surgeons inserting the device.