Blood clots prevent excess bleeding when a blood vessel is injured, inside or out. Generally, clots are broken down naturally by the body over time, but when this doesn’t happen, problems can arise.
One such problem is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the name for a condition in which blood clots form deep in a vein of the leg. DVTs can occur when a person is immobile for long periods of time, such as during an international flight or in a person with a spinal cord injury. DVTs can also happen in people who have health conditions associated with clot formation, such as cancer or an inherited blood disorder.
A potential danger is that a blood clot can break off and travel to another area of the body. This is called an embolus. If an embolus travels to the lungs, it could block one of the pulmonary arteries, creating a pulmonary embolism, which is life-threatening. Pulmonary embolism is among the leading causes of death worldwide.
If recognized, DVTs are typically treated with medications called blood thinners that dissolve them before they can become pulmonary embolisms. Not everyone can take these medications, however. Another option for potentially preventing blood clots from going to the lungs is called an inferior vena cava (IVC) filter. An IVC is a special basket-like filter to trap clots that can be inserted into the inferior vena cava, a large vein in the abdomen that carries blood from the lower to the upper half of the body to the heart.
Doctors can implant an IVC filter permanently or temporarily, depending on the patient’s needs. “IVC filters can help to save lives, and it is important to remove IVC filters as soon as they’re no longer needed to reduce long-term complications,” says Hamid Mojibian, MD, director of cardiac CT/MR Imaging for Yale Medicine’s Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging.