This study was undertaken to evaluate the safety and efficacy of retrievable inferior vena cava filters in high-risk orthopaedic patients. A total of 58 patients had a retrievable inferior vena cava filter placed as an adjunct to chemical and mechanical prophylaxis, most commonly for a history of previous deep-vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, polytrauma, or expected prolonged immobilisation. In total 56 patients (96.6%) had an uncomplicated post-operative course. Two patients (3.4%) died in the peri-operative period for unrelated reasons. Of the 56 surviving patients, 50 (89%) were available for follow-up. A total of 32 filters (64%) were removed without complication at a mean of 37.8 days (4 to 238) after placement. There were four filters (8%) which were retained because of thrombosis at the filter site, and four (8%) were retained because of incorporation of the filter into the wall of the inferior vena cava. In ten cases (20%) the retrievable filter was left in place to continue as primary prophylaxis. No patient had post-removal thromboembolic complications. A retrievable inferior vena cava filter, as an adjunct to chemical and mechanical prophylaxis, was a safe and effective means of reducing the acute risk of pulmonary embolism in this high-risk group of patients. Although most filters were removed without complications, thereby avoiding the long-term complications that have plagued permanent indwelling filters, a relatively high percentage of filters had to be left in situ.
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