iliocaval venous ivc ivc filter techniques ultrasound Venous venous intervention vte

Leave Nothing Behind -IVC filter edition

Why There is a Literature on Filter Removal

A long time ago, there was the IVC clip which survives today as a vestigial CPT code. Then in the 1980’s, the Greenfield filter was introduced and changed the management of thromboembolism (reference). The explosive adoption of endovascular technology in the late nineties and early 2000’s drove the growth in implantation of newer generations of IVC filters that were designed to be retrievable. The people requesting the filters -the physicians, surgeons, and even patients looking to stop taking anticoagulation, were basing their decision on common sense –“sometimes, people are vulnerable to pulmonary embolism and are at risk of hemorrhage with anticoagulation, so an IVC filter makes sense.” There was frankly a data gap -a breach into which multiple companies jumped in with their own flavor of filter. Many interventionists saw no need to be selective -these were easy to place, and easy to remove, and if they stayed in there was the excellent long term results of the Greenfield filter to cite, and their referring docs asked for it. There was also the high revenue density (revenue/time) that gave filters a gravitational pull. There were several problems with this endo-enthusiasm (like in so many other cases). In the absence of data and with the aggressive marketing, too many filters went in for weak indications. We now know that most of these filters do not behave like the Greenfield, which itself is not completely innocent. Unless followup is part of a process, many patients neglected to have their filters removed. And finally, the data caught up and failed several filters which are no longer on the market and the indication for these filters is now quite narrow.

In 2009, I was asked to consult on a young man who was hospitalized for upper GI bleeding. The EGD revealed the tines of an IVC filter poking through (the jpg is somewhere I swear). The prior year, he had been in a bad car accident and had a filter placed but never had it removed. The filter had migrated out of the IVC into the duodenum and into the spine and aorta. I removed it operatively, and that was the beginning of a series of cases, about 1-2 annually in my general vascular practice, of filters that had eroded through the IVC and was causing symptoms of bleeding or pain. The pain typically was associated with a tine touching on or eroding into the spine. Biomechanically, the IVC is a collapsible tube and all the viscera on top of it weighs about as much as an equivalent sack of uncooked chitterlings when recumbent and grinds on the filter and any sharp parts. Imagine unbending a paperclip (figure) and putting it in the belly. Over time, that clip will poke a hole in something. Why would we not expect an IVC filter to behave otherwise?

An Iliocaval Thrombosis Below a TrapEase Filter

The patient is a younger man who over a decade ago had a TrapEase permanent IVC filter placed when he had a pulmonary embolism while having multiorgan failure. He was on coumadin briefly, but in the 17 years since filter placement, never had another venous thromboembolic event, but did develop venous insufficiency and varicose veins that were successfully treated. Several days prior to admission, he had been working out and developed back pain. After trying to sleep it off, he woke with severely swollen and painful legs. On admission, he was found to have no lower extremity DVTs, but had slow flow suggesting central occlusion. An abdominal x-ray showed the TrapEase filter (image below).

CT scanning and MRV showed the occlusion of the patient’s iliac veins and erosion of the struts of the filter outside the IVC (axial images below).  

On heparin infusion and bedrest, his swelling improved and we had a chance to go over our treatment options. They included

  1. Catheter directed thrombolysis
  2. Angiojet thrombectomy
  3. Large sheath thrombectomy (link)

with one of the following

  1. Surgical resection of filter
  2. Endovascular retrieval of filter
  3. Balloon venoplasty and stent exclusion of the filter (link)

Catheter directed thrombolysis of such a large volume of clot in the absence of a good flow channel usually necessitates multiple days of thrombolysis with return for venography and adjustment, with a small but not zero chance of fatal or disabling hemorrhage. It is expensive -multiple ICU days, return trips to the OR angiosuite. Angiojet thrombectomy is useful for clearing smaller vessels and grafts but due to the pulsing of the jet, it has a good chance at creating pulmonary emboli if the filter’s occlusion is not complete. Plus it is expensive and limited by the volume of fluid necessary to create the suction. Large sheath thrombectomy has worked for me in the past (link), but I worry about leaving behind thrombus that would embolize when the filter is removed or pushed aside.

Endovascular removal of the filter is always an option -I have removed a Greenfield filter over two decades in. I have never been able to remove an OptEase or TrapEase filter -there is nothing easy about these. I have a picture somewhere sent to me by a trainee who was consulted on a patient whose IVC was transected during the attempt to remove one of these endovascularly. That said, both my partners Houssam Younes here in Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and Christopher Smolock at Cleveland Clinic Main Campus suggested trying with a two-team approach with a 16F sheath and wire from above and a 12F sheath and wire from below. That would be contingent on being able to clear the thrombus adequately.

Surgery to remove the filter is something I am comfortable with. It sometimes is the only option (link). Several times a year, I scrub in with urologists and oncologic surgeons to remove tumor from the retroperitoneum or IVC and the exposure is straightforward. When I only need control of the IVC, I make a transverse incision slightly above the umbilicus and mobilize the retroperitoneum leaving the kidney down to expose the IVC. For the IVC and iliacs, a midline laparotomy with a Cattell maneuver allows for broad control. Surgical thrombectomy would be great if the thrombus was all fresh, but challenging if there were differing amounts of fresh and chronic occlusion. The CT scan, showing the iliac veins and IVC to be swole with clot, suggesting most of it was fresh. Neither CT nor MRV could tell me if the IVC below the renal confluence was occluded. I had to be certain.

I went over these issues in detail with the patient and we agreed to proceed with diagnostic venography to check out the clot. The verbiage of clot, tofu, and cheese (link) worked well in communicating the information needed to achieve our goal of getting the filter out and the IVC and iliac veins cleared of thrombus. I sent a hypercoagulability study (even on heparin, the genetic component is useful information) which returned negative.

The diagnostic venogram is much more than just the pictures. For me, so much information is transmitted from the tip of a Glidewire as it passes through an obstruction or clot. Venography (image below) showed the thrombus but more importantly, the wire passed effortlessly in either side, got caught up in the bottom of the filter, but I was able to get through and the 5cm of IVC below the renal confluence turned out to be patent. The wire looped easily on both sides to the full extant of the dilated vein suggesting no chronic component.

I recommended surgery in our hybrid angiography suite. It would avoid multiple days of thrombolysis and its attendant risks. It would avoid subtotal clearance of thrombus. It would avoid failed filter retrieval and bailing out by stenting the filter (link), something acceptable in an older higher risk patient but not in an active young man. It would avoid surgery after several days of failed thrombolysis. The ability to perform venography and sonography with a clamp on the IVC ensured the ability to fully clear clot. And we had cell saver. After laying out my thoughts and concerns, the patient agreed.

The patient was opened via a generous midline laparotomy. I recruited the assistance of my friend Waleed Hassen, master urologic surgeon here at CCAD, in exposing the IVC. The vessel loop in the picture (below) is around the ureter. Green arrows on the right image show the anterior struts (there are three posterior struts). I had just assisted Waleed recently in removing a metastatic testicular tumor off the IVC, aorta, and mesenteric arteries through the same exposure.

The surprising finding was the anterior hooks of the TrapEase filter had penetrated the serosa of the overlying duodenum. While not perforating, it eventually would have, as the struts had eroded through the wall of the IVC and were outside the adventitial. After heparinizing the patient, the cava was clamped above the filter and I opened the cava lontitudinally along the anterior most strut. I got the sternal wirecutters and removed the anterior three struts along with their hooks. There were large draining lumbar veins which were acting as collaterals that were ligated. The filter was removed internally in pieces leaving the posterior three struts behind as they were outside the IVC lumen. The lower cone can be seen with tissue ingrowth and chronic thrombus. It was dangerous and bloody behind the IVC and I chose to leave these struts behind as they would no longer be pressing into the spine with the filter mostly out. (image below).

The initial thrombectomy was done manually by massaging the vein from either side and up the cava -the thrombus (image below) in the basin on the left expelled as a unit with a spout of blood. Thrombectomy with a #5 Fogarty proved ineffective in the large vessel, and I resorted to using a Foley catheter, directing it left and right, with removal of some more thrombus.

Duplex demonstrated clearance of thrombus from the right iliac vein but adherent thrombus on the left. I placed an 18F sheath into the left femoral vein over a wire I had directed up and over into the right iliac system and advanced the sheath while suctioning -this collapsed the vein and allowed the sheath to scrape the walls of the vein, retrieving the final clot material in the right basin. Duplex confirmed the absence of clot in the left iliac vein. The venotomy was then closed primarily and a completion venogram was performed (below).

The patient recovered and was sent home after a duplex confirmed patency of his leg and iliac veins and IVC. He will be on 3 months of a NOAC for provoked DVT.


Most of these filters can be retrieved with endovascular techniques. The principle is of gaining control of the top of the cone and collapsing it like an umbrella. For the Cordis TrapEase and OptEase filters, both cones have to be collapsed, and the struts which will have grown into the walls of the IVC have to be be stripped away from the IVC. I had attempted removal of an OptEase with control from above when I was in Ohio, but like in this case, the filter had tissue ingrowth on the lower cone making looping and control of the filter difficult as the hook was encased. While I was able to collapse the filter into a 16F sheath supported through an 18F sheath, it was clear the IVC was invaginating into the sheath and with enough force, I would tear the IVC. It is not the worst thing, perforating the IVC, as it is a low pressure system, and a small perforation is tolerated, but a large one needs operative repair. This can be avoided with surgical removal of the filter.

Performing this in the hybrid suite allowed for complete clearance of thrombus. That said, the thrombus in the internal iliac veins likely did not come out, nor did I seek to clear them. Rather, I will rely on systemic anticoagulation to do this for me.

I use duplex sonography intraoperatively liberally during my procedures. During EVAR, transabdominal ultrasound is sufficient in ruling out or specifying endoleaks. During complex kidney transplantation which I sometimes participate in, duplex is a critical tool for evaluating flow. In this case, images showing a cleared vein (will post, currently stuck in portable ultrasound memory) assured me that I could open the clamps with confidence that pulmonary embolism could be avoided. Gratifyingly, the patient had immediate reduction of leg swelling and can be expected to avoid problems as nothing (such as stents) was left behind in the vena cava lumen.


  1. J-P Galanaud, J-P LarocheM Righini. J Thromb Haemost 2013;11(3):402-11. doi: 10.1111/jth.12127.
Commentary Gonadal Vein iliocaval venous MALS May Thurner's Syndrome median arcuate ligament syndrome Nutcracker Syndrome opinion Ovarian Vein Pelvic Congestion Syndrome SVC Syndrome Takayasu's Arteritis Venous venous intervention

The Pain Operations

absolute neutral position.png
Absolute Neutral Position is suprisingly universal

A body floating in space, a fetus in the womb, a dad lounging in his favorite chair, share the feature of weightlessness and represent the absolute neutral position (figure above) of the human which is the position of a relaxed supine quadruped -a dead mouse. Anything else is a stress position, including standing. Repeating motions outside of this relaxed pose or holding those positions away from this absolute neutral for long periods of time is a nidus for injury and pain. That is why most land animals sleep flat on the ground.

The Pain Operations

Operations to relieve pain are often the most gratifying to both patient and surgeon to perform successfully. This circumstance applies to the commonly performed procedures such as spine surgery, endometrial ablations, and varicose vein resections. When the pain is due to a rare set of circumstances, things are not so easy. Typically for rarer pain syndromes, two things need to coincide for the successful operation to happen. First is the patient must suffer while more common and potentially life threatening diseases are ruled out and even treated if these are found. This may take months or years. The second necessary condition is finding a physician who has seen the particular pain syndrome before and understand how to test for it and treat it. That meant the majority of people never get treated, or are shunted into the circle of shame as malingering, drug seeking, and mentally unstable. The opioid epidemic creates double jeopardy for these patients -they can become addicts as their pain is never successfully diagnosed and treated and they get labeled as drug seeking.

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A random list of conditions that cause pain that should be on the mind after the usual things are ruled out. Also, vasculitis, autoimmune disorders, and foreign body reactions

All pain syndromes that can be successfully treated share common features that give you a degree of surety about the diagnosis, but at the end, there is a leap of faith on the part of both patient and practitioner because many of these operations have a failure rate ranging from 5-20 percent. First, the symptoms must be associated with sensory nerves, somatic or visceral. Second, there is a physical mechanism for that nerve to be inflamed from compression, swelling, or irritation that can be accounted for through history, physical examination, and imaging studies. Third, though not a constant, a major nerve trunk will be associated with a blood vessel, typically and artery, that is also affected by compression. Fourth, when swollen veins are the cause of pain, it has to be recognized that at an end stage the organ that the veins drain can also be affected.

The Pain Must Have a Testable Anatomic Basis

The somatic sensory nerves in the periphery are well mapped out and known since even classical times. The described pain should be consistent with a nerve. The best and easiest example is a neuroma that forms in an amputation stump. It triggers pain in its former distribution. It is palpable as a nodular mass. It is visible under ultrasound or cross sectional imaging. And it is easy to turn off temporarily with an injection of lidocaine, either under palpation or image guidance. If you can turn off the nerve and relieve the pain, it is likely that ablating or relieving the nerve of irritation will also relieve the pain. Such is the case in median arcuate ligament syndrome (figure below).Screen Shot 2019-03-03 at 5.34.02 PM.png The celiac plexus is caught under the median arcuate ligament and compressed. It causes a neuropathy that is felt in its visceral sensory distribution and the brain interprets these signals in the typical ways irritation of the stomach is interpreted -as pain, burning, nausea, sensations of bloating, and general malaise. These nerves can be turned off with a celiac plexus block and the effects tested by giving the patient a sandwich. When it works, the patient will say they will have had relief for the first time in years and operation to relieve the ligament compression and ablate the nerve can proceed. Same for many of the diseases listed.

Tight Spaces Impinging Nerves, Arteries, and Veins

Many of the tight spaces involving the nerves have accompanying arteries that are compressed. This results in injury to the artery in the form of intimal hyperplasia, post stenotic dilatation, aneurysm formation, and thromboembolism. Shared tight spaces that cause problems for nerves and arteries have the common features of fixed ligaments, adjacent bones and muscles, inflammation, and motion. These include the thoracic outlet, antecubital fossa, cubital canal, diaphragmatic hiatus at median arcuate ligament, inguinal ligament, popliteal fossa, carpal tunnel, obturator canal, mediastinum, retroperitoneum -basically anywhere nerve, compression, and motion occur. In some instances of median arcuate ligament syndrome, postures and breathing trigger the pain. Holding a child in an arm may trigger pain in neurogenic thoracic outlet. Or sitting while wearing tight jeans may trigger a burning pain in meralgia paresthetica. It is not uncommon to find damaged arteries in median arcuate ligament syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, and popliteal entrapment or thrombosed veins in nutcracker syndrome, May-Thurner Syndrome, and Paget-von Schroetter Syndrome. Because nerves are typically difficult to visualize, their compression may only be inferred by testing for compression in their adjacent arteries.

Dilated Veins and Swollen Organs and Visceral Pain

Venous hypertension is most commonly conceived of as varicose and spider veins of the legs and offer a model of pain when applied to other pain caused by venous dissension. The visceral sensory fibers veins and arteries trigger a very intense pain that localizes to the trigger. I have often witnessed this when I manipulate a blood vessel during local anesthesia cases. Visceral pain from swelling has a dull achiness that is localizable to my spider veins after a long day standing like a bruise (below).my spider vein The swelling from varicoceles which I have also had feel nothing less than feeling the aftereffects of getting a kick in the balls -not the immediate sharp pain but imagine about 5 minutes after with the mild nausea, abdominal discomfort and desire not to move too much, and even a little flank pain. Imagine this occurring low in the pelvis with ovarian vein varices in pelvic congestion syndrome. This kind of swollen gonad pain afflicts many women whose pain is so frequently dismissed by male physicians because they have no context -well imagine getting kicked in the balls hard, wait about 5 minutes and that moment stretch it out to whenever you stand for a long period of time (below).

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Actual Slide From Midwest Vascular Surgery Traveling Fellowship talk 2017, Chicago, IL, USA


When a limb is swollen from a thrombosis, the veins hurt and is similar to a bone pain from a fracture or a pulled muscle -that is how the brain processes the pain, but when the muscles and skin get tight from edema, the pain is sharp and dire. This is the same kind for pain from a distended left kidney from nutcracker syndrome or a spleen from a splenic vein thrombosis. These conditions can be modeled and predicted based on history and correct differential and confirmed with proper imaging -always.


Build a theory of the pain based on a testable proposition and set of nerves

That is the final message. These pain syndrome require some imagination and empathy to map and model. Predictive tests then can be performed on physical examination, functional testing, or imaging. Often, the adjacent artery is the only thing that can be reliably visualized and tested, knowing that it is the nerve that is compressed. Turning off the offending nerve with a block and relieving the pain is the most powerful argument for operating. It is building the argument for an operation that requires these objective data, but at the end, it does require some experience and faith. You have to believe in your patient and the science and when they coincide, you have to act.

Gonadal Vein May Thurner's Syndrome Pelvic Congestion Syndrome Venous venous intervention

May-Thurner Syndrome Causing Pelvic Congestion -Pathoanatomy Movie

Gonadal Vein iliocaval venous ivc Nutcracker Syndrome Ovarian Vein Pelvic Congestion Syndrome venous intervention

Nutcracker Syndrome Pathophysiology and Pelvic Congestion Syndrome 

iliocaval venous ivc ivc filter techniques ultrasound vascular lab Venous venous intervention

Chronic IVC occlusion causing venous claudication and ulcers requires treatment

The patient is a gentleman from out of state who had called about problems he was having with walking and with leg ulcers that wouldn’t heal. He is in his seventies and has a pacemaker for an arrhythmia for which he was on Xarelto. He also had type II diabetes. He had bilateral lower extremity deep venous thromboses 6 years prior requiring IVC filter placement. The filter occluded, and it resulted in sudden sharp and debilitating pain in both legs with walking short distances -some days only 50 paces.He described it as an unbearable pain in calves and thighs that felt like his legs were going to burst. He also had ulcers on his legs that would heal with ministration but soon recur. This was all despite being quite active, with regular workouts, and being fit. He was compliant with compression. He sent a CT scan done last year (below).

Annotated R iliocaval Centerline Preop CT.jpg
Right iliocaval centerline projection

It showed an Optease retrievable vena cava filter that was occluded and the iliac systems bilaterally (right above and left below) were chronically occluded with patent vena cava above and femoral confluences bilaterally below.

Annotated L iliocaval Centerline Preop CT.jpg
Left iliocaval system showing chronic occlusion on centerline projection

He had no hypercoagulability nor ongoing recent DVT’s. I thought there was a good chance that we would be able to recanalize the occluded iliocaval segment and he flew in for a consultation, and he was pencilled into the schedule ahead of his visit.

Examination revealed a fit and trim man in his 70’s in no apparent distress. He had bilateral leg edema that was moderate with small superficial and tender ulcers of the right posterior distal calf. Pulses were normal. He was taken to our hybrid suite and venography from femoral vein access in the proximal thigh in the supine position revealed his right and left iliac venous systems to be occluded (below figures).

right initial venogram
Right injection from femoral sheath showing occluded iliac vein with collaterals

left initial venogram.png
Left injection

Wire access into the iliac systems was performed with Glidewire and Glidecatheter periodic venography to confirm that I had not exited the vein. Unlike the arterial system, extravasation from being extravenous does not have the consequence of bleeding, hematoma development, and pseudoaneurysm formation because of the low pressure, but it can be a long procedure and uncomfortable as well so these are done under general anesthesia.

intervention fig 1.png
Advancing wire and sheath into iliac vein, crossing filter resulted in extravasation of contrast

Once position confirmed to be in the iliac vein, the vein was dilated to allow for greater ease of movement. In the case of the uncrossable filter, I switched to access from above via a right internal jugular vein access.

intervention fig 2.png
Dilating vein (left) for greater mobility, and crossing from above (R. IJV access)

Once the wire crossed into the iliac vein from above, it was captured and brought out. While ballooning by itself is inadequate for revascularization, it greatly eases wire capture and on the right, it was done simply by driving the wire from above into the sheath. Wire capture wins access across the iliocaval and IVC filter occlusion from below.

intervention fig 3.png
Wire passage across IVC filter into right and left systems

Once wire access is done, ballooning across the filter is done from both sides. A large sheath is them delivered across the IVC filter. Finally, a Palmaz stent mounted on a large balloon is delivered and deployed. I chose to do this from the right access, and retracted the wire on the left -something done with some trepidation because of the great difficulty gaining this access, but with with prior balloon dilatation, reaccess is made easier. Also, plan B would be reaccess from above.

intervention fig 4.png
After balloon dilatation of occlusion typically to 8mm from both sides, a sheath placed and Palmaz stent deployed across filter on a large 24mm balloon

When this is accomplished, the left sided wire is reaccessed across this stent. This is the venous side analogue to gate access in EVAR (below).

intervention fig 5.png
Reaccess of the left iliac venous wire across Palmaz stent

Once this is done, the iliac veins are dilated to 14mm from the IVC to the common femoral arteries. large 18mm Wall stents are deployed in a kissing fashion from the caval stent into both iliac systems and dilated to 18mm.

intervention fig 6.png
Predilatation of iliac venous systems with ever larger balloons, deployement of bilateral 18mm Wall Stents

After deployment, the Wall Stents are ballooned to 18mm. These stents were extended into the common femoral artery with 14mm nitinol stents.

intervention fig 7.png
Ballooning 18 mm Wall Stents with 18mm Atlas balloons, then extending to CFA with nitinol stents of 14mm

Completion venography suggested successful iliocaval recanalization and revascularization but these procedures are not done without a final intravascular ultrasound (IVUS).

Looks done, but needed final intervention after IVUS.

Intravascular ultrasound revealed incomplete expansion of the right common femoral stent. This was treated with another stent and ballooning with the result on the right.

Stent compression on IVUS treated with second stent

Venography alone is insufficient in determining patency. As illustrated, IVUS ensures a durable outcome.

The leg ulcer was treated with an Unna’s boot. A word about the venerable Unna’s boot –it works. The dressing dries and compresses while the Zinc Oxide prevents bacterial growth. It is interesting that the dressing is so infrequently used nowadays but not so when you consider that it isn’t reimbursed. And patients generally hate it.

This revascularization has an excellent chance at working as the patient has no hypercoagulability and had a patent common femoral confluence bilaterally. As I had mentioned in a prior post, the idea in venous revascularization is connecting confluences that serve as inflow and outflow.


This will require followup, consisting of duplex, and it is advantageous that he is anticoagulated for his arrhythmia. It is becoming more apparent that those languishing with chronic venous insufficiency and its complications need the IVC and iliac veins interrogated with a duplex. When an obstruction is found, they should be treated with these techniques as a first line therapy.


iliocaval venous May Thurner's Syndrome postural orthostatic tachycardia synrome POTS Uncategorized Venous venous intervention

POTS+May-Thurner’s Syndrome: Rare Disease Causes Rare Disease?


The patient is a younger man in his twenties who began having dizzy spells associated with near syncope and tunnel vision. He was previously an athlete and was fit and never had such episodes -he had a resting heart rate typically in the 60’s or lower. Workup for arrhythmias was ultimately positive for POTS -postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and he was referred to Dr. Fredrick Jaeger of our Syncope Clinic. Tilt table testing the demonstrated the reported tachycardia over 140bpm while upright rising from 60bpm while supine. A radionuclide hemodynamic study (Syncope Radionuclide Hemodynamic Test) showed 54% of his blood volume pooled in his left lower extremity and lower abdomen with upright posture. Air plethysmography (PHLEBOTEST) showed abnormal refill and fill times in both legs and a duplex of the legs showed deep venous reflux in both legs. MRV revealed narrowing of left common iliac vein by the overlying right common iliac artery (May-Thurner’s Syndrome, MTS), and this was where the patient came to my clinic.

The MRV, shown above and below showed the typical pathoanatomy for MTS, but the patient had no symptoms related to left leg swelling, DVT, or varicosities. He did have a reducible left inguinal hernia which was quite tender.


After some deliberation, while not promising anything regarding his POTS, I agreed to proceed with treating his pathoanatomy. Discussion with Dr. Jaeger revealed this: normally about 20% of blood volume parks in the legs with standing which is rapidly dissipated with normal calf muscle pump action. In a subset of patients with POTS, there is a 30-40% maldistribution of blood volume into the legs which may or may not drive the autonomic responses leading to POTS. He has never seen a study result showing a 54% distribution.

It made physiologic and anatomic sense to me to proceed with a venogram and intervention, but I confess I was dubious about any affects I might have on the patient’s POTS and I informed him of it. Also, I recommended seeing a general surgeon for his hernia.

Venography showed obstruction of his left common iliac vein as evidenced by the filling of pelvic and lumbar collateral veins.


Intravascular ultrasound showed the narrowing better and more directly (panel below). The right common iliac artery narrowed the left common iliac vein severely.

preop IVUS.png

A 22mm Wall Stent was positioned across this and dilated with a 22mm balloon in the IVC and an 18mm balloon in the iliac vein. The resulting venogram showed resolution of the obstruction with collateral veins no longer visualized (below).


But again, IVUS demonstrated more directly the result (and illustrates the importance of having IVUS available for venous interventions).

post IVUS.png

The patient was discharged after procedure on a baby aspirin only. He subsequently underwent laparoscopic inguinal herniorrhaphy and returned to my clinic about a month later. His followup duplex showed a widely patent stent and normal flows in the left iliac venous system.

followup duplex.jpg

Surprisingly -the patient declared that he was cured of his POTS. He said since the stents went in, he has not had any more episodes of near syncope, dizziness, tunnel vision, nor weakness requiring lying down to rest. His wife confirmed that he was a flurry of activity over the holidays that was surprising considering how debilitated he was before. This is astonishing to me.

But it should not be a surprise given this: if the POTS symptoms were the result of autonomic dysregulation, a breakdown of the feedback control loop, there were only several places this could be a problem.


The pathology, the MTS, explains the POTS in this instance very nicely. Because the problem was in the cardiovascular system part of the diagram which I can fix and not the autonomic nervous system control element, which I can’t fix yet, a solution could be tried. This was not an asymptomatic compression of the iliac vein which we do encounter as an incidental finding. It seems to be POTS caused by MTS, and cured for now by treatment of the MTS.



iliocaval venous ivc Venous venous intervention

The Cost of Success in Iliocaval Venous Thrombosis: Efficacy is Only One Aspect of Device and Procedural Innovation

preop-venous-duplex The patient is a young woman who three weeks prior to presentation developed sudden low back pain and left leg pain while exercising on an elliptical. This pain worsened through the subsequent weeks and she developed fevers, chills, and night sweats, and she came to the emergency department. There, she was found to have left thigh and leg swelling. Duplex revealed a left iliofemoral DVT starting from the iliocaval tributary and extending to her left femoral vein (figure above). A CT scan revealed a pulmonary embolism to the left lung (below). No precipitating factors were present. Vascular surgery was consulted.


Plan was for catheter directed thrombolysis. Venography from the patient’s popliteal vein via a short saphenous access revealed thrombotic occlusion from the left common femoral confluence to the iliocaval confluence. The thrombus was crossed, and ballooning showed there was chronicity to the occlusion in the pelvis evidenced by waisting of the balloon on inflation. A multihole infusion catheter was placed across the thrombus from the thigh to the inferior vena cava and recombinant tissue plasminogen activator was infused overnight.


The venogram from the popliteal vein showed a patent popliteal and femoral vein and the goal of this procedure became opening the common femoral  vein  and its confluence of multiple veins from the thigh, to connect it via stents to the vena cava (second image below).



Clinically, there was no change overnight and when the patient was restudied next morning, there was still an occlusion starting at the common femoral vein.


At this point, I had a choice as to what to do next. First, I could stop, and have the patient start anticoagulation and return several months later -often, the common femoral vein returns to drain into pelvic collaterals. As I had discussed in an earlier post, venous interventions are no different from arterial ones in that inflow, draining vein, and outflow have to be considered. In the case of the veins, I like to think of it as connecting major confluences, and for a leg, the common femoral venous confluence is paramount.Confluences

Intervening from the popliteal vein to the vena cava is inferior to being able to connect draining veins at the common femoral confluence to the vena cava. So getting the common femoral vein to patency is critical, and can sometimes be achieved with anticoagulation and time. The second option is to break out a thrombectomy catheter and try to remove the thrombus by various machinations, ie. gadgets and novel catheter systems of which there are many. I felt that given the three week time course of the thrombus, the best we could get was some clearance of thrombus, leaving behind a complex network of chronic thrombus and fibrinous scar with the overnight lysis. I didn’t even try this second option and the thrombectomy machine stayed unplugged, the fancy (and expensive) catheters left hanging. The third option, surgery, was not indicated as the patient did not have signs of phlegmasia, and for the same reasons that the lysis didn’t work, opening the common femoral vein for an endovenectomy has uneven outcomes.

The fourth option, mechanical aspiration sheath thrombectomy (MAST), is a technique developed by Dan Clair, our former chair. As a concept, it is very simple. A large sheath (>12F) is introduced and the thrombus is aspirated while the bare sheath is advanced over a wire. The sheath is then removed and the contents emptied. For this case, an 18 F sheath was introduced into the femoral vein in mid thigh.


The blood is ejected into a basin and a cell saver (in non-malignant cases) is used to salvage the whole blood.


This reopened the common femoral vein. This was for me a very important step as without achieving this, I would have had to stent into the femoral vein, excluding many smaller veins draining into the common femoral vein, and effectively basing my revascularization off the popliteal vein confluence, an inferior inflow source for venous revascularization.


With the common femoral vein open, placing stents from the vena cava to the common femoral vein was straightforward and described elsewhere (reference). The iliac vein remained closed due to the chronic thrombosis, which was clinically May Thurner’s Syndrome, and was stented.

completion fluoro.jpg

Three things deserve comment: the vena cava and iliac veins need to be dilated up to 18mm, and larger for the cava. This is disconcerting, but size does matter. Second, IVUS is critical in confirming that everything is open. Third, the 14mm nitinol stent placed into the common femoral vein will stay open, unlike a stent placed into the artery across the inguinal ligament. It likely has to do with the deeper position of the vein in relation to the artery which protects the vein from the ligament. We don’t have the large diameter nitinol stents designed for iliocaval venous revascularization yet, but the available stents do a good job.


The patient was discharged on anticoagulation with resolving edema in the left leg and thigh. At one month followup, duplex confirmed wide patency of the stents and IVC and no new DVT.

Discussion: MAST illustrates a critical issue for all innovation in the current setting of resource limitation. Innovations must be made with not just a consideration to efficacy and potential market, but also cost. The large sheaths used in MAST are commonly available and cheaper by multiples of tens compared to the thrombectomy systems and catheters. Unpublished data reviewing 13 patients undergoing MAST with a mean followup showed 69% with complete thrombus removal, 31% with subsegmental removal, no operative mortality, and 92% primary patency at an average of 79 days of followup, all with symptom improvement (Clair, correspondence). Other groups have reported similiar results using “large catheters” (reference 2), but nothing can compare to an 18F sheath in clearing the iliocaval system.

The patient can expect to have excellent patency in the short to mid term (reference 1).



  1. Titus JM et al. J Vasc Surg. 2011 Mar;53(3):706-12.
  2. Chung HH et al. Vasc Endovascular Surg. 2016 Jul;50(5):321-7

CTA imaging Uncategorized Venous venous aneurysm venous intervention

3D VR Images from CT Data Very Useful in Open Surgical Planning: Popliteal Venous Aneurysm


Patient is a middle aged man with history of DVT and PE who in preoperative workup for another operation was found to have a popliteal venous aneurysm affecting his right leg. Unlike the recently posted case (link) which was fusiform, this aneurysm was saccular (CT above, duplex below). Popliteal venous aneurysms have a high risk of pulmonary embolism because: they tend to form clot in areas of sluggish flow and once loaded with clot, will eject it when compressed during knee flexion.


When I perform open vascular surgery, I tend to get a CTA not just because it is minimally invasive and convenient, but because it gives important information for operative planning. The volume rendering function, which takes the 3 dimensional data set from a spiral CT scan, and creates voxels (3 dimensional pixels) of density information and creates stunning images such as the one featured on the current September 2016 issue of the Journal of Vascular Surgery. But these are not just pretty pictures.

In fact, I use these images to plan open surgery, even to the location of incisions. Vital structures are seen in 3D and injuries are avoided. Take for example the CT Venogram on the panel below. By adjusting the window level, you have first the venographic information showing the saccular popliteal venous aneurysm on the left panel, you can also see where it is in reference to the muscles in the popliteal fossa. The greater saphenous vein and varicose veins below are well seen.


By adjusting the level, subcutaneous structures are better seen including the small saphenous vein which could be harvested to create a patch or a panel graft from a posterior approach. A final adjustment of the window level on the right shows the skin, and I can now plan the curvilinear incision.

By changing the orientation, I can also recreate the surgeon’s eye view of the leg in the prone position (below).


And you can see how well it matches up to the actual operation shown below:

Intraop Photo.png

This was treated with plication of the saccular aneurysm and unlike the fusiform aneurysm, I did not sew over a mandrill (a large 24F foley) inserted through a transverse venotomy, but rather ran a Blalock type stitch under and over a clamp.


The several weeks postoperatively showed no further trace of the saccular aneurysm.


The volume rendering software grew out of the 3D gaming industry. The voxel data that paints flesh and bone on skeletons and costumes and weapons is far more complex than what is applied for the 3DVR packages that are available. The images shown for this post comes from TeraRecon/Aquarius, but they are also available as open source software from Osirix, Vitrea, and various software packages sold with CT scanners. While those that are tied to the scanners are often tied to dedicated workstations -limiting you to going to Radiology and taking over their workstation, many will work in the cloud for both the DICOM data and for virtual desktop access through mobile. Contrast is not necessary if the patient has kidney dysfunction -the vessels can be manually centerlined -ie. a line can be dropped in the center of the artery to illustrate its course when viewing the VR images.

I will plan the surgery while in the clinic with the patient, actually tracing out the incisions and dissections necessary to achieve success. It is a wonderful teaching tool for trainees. But most critically, it helps me imagine the operation and its successful completion.

pseudoaneurysm techniques ultrasound vascular lab venous intervention

Complex femoral pseudoaneurysm with arteriovenous fistula and large hematoma treated with novel hybrid therapy

wide avf and pseudo

The patient is a middle aged man who after an interventional procedure was referred to my clinic with an expanding hematoma due to a pseudoaneurysm complicated by an arteriovenous fistula. He was a week out from his procedure and had grown a hematoma roughly the size of a hard boiled egg in his left groin which caused him pain. A duplex scan showed a pseudoaneurysm (below) with fistula flow.


On examination, he had this well circumscribed indurated hematoma of hard boiled egg size with tenderness. There was a bruit on auscultation. Duplex showed a small chamber of flow adjacent to the proximal superficial femoral artery emptying into the femoral vein. Doppler in the common femoral vein showed relatively high fistula flow, and this is reported to be associated with failure of thrombin injection. CTA (top) demonstrated flow of contrast from femoral artery to vein through a pseudoaneurysm chamber that laid between. Angulation to an axial orientation showed this better (below).

axial AVF
Contrast flows from femoral artery (right) to the fistula chamber, then into the femoral vein.

axial CTA avf pseudo
Axial MPR
Operation was planned, but in the days leading up to the operation, I had a thought -the primary reason why ultrasound guided thrombin injection would fail is the AVF. It would be simple to fluoroscopically guide an angioplasty balloon on the arterial side to occlude the fistula inflow. The next step would be to get access to the pseudoaneurysm with a needle under ultrasound guidance, confirm location with a contrast injection. Once confirmed, the balloon is inflated and a small volume of thrombin would be injected. I discussed this with the patient in detail and he was enthusiastic about trying this before proceeding with an open repair.


pseudoaneurysm avf procedure sketch
Schematic of procedure
The procedure went as planned. Ultrasound guided access is aided with dual live display of B-mode and color flow (below)

Arteriography showed much of the contrast from injection of the pseudoaneurysm to preferentially go to the artery which made me worry less about creating a DVT/PE. With balloon inflated (below), thrombin was injected and balloon inflation held for about 30 seconds.

angio procedure31

There was resolution of flow in the pseudoaneurysm and in the fistula. Before and after duplexes are composited below.

prepost pseudo chamber

Repeat duplex on the following day showed resolution of the pseudoaneurysm and arteriovenous fistula.

In the days before ultrasound guided thrombin injection of pseudoaneurysms, open surgical repair of these was fraught with complications. First, these patients typically had cardiac disease. Second, they were usually anticoagulated often with multiple agents. And finally, they were  many times obese, making not only the operation fraught with complexity, but the ultimate wound healing a delicate and rare phenomena. Even now, we get emergency repairs when access hemostasis fails, and these patients are typically high risk. With hematoma evacuation, inflammation, lymph leaks, and infections may follow; the patient was correct in his enthusiasm for agreeing to proceed with a minimally invasive effort.

As to the techniques, they are all well established in the vascular surgeon’s toolbox. Ultrasound guided access of the pseudoaneursm should be obtained before arterial occlusion. This was  facilitated by general anesthesia which kept the patient from moving. Having access to excellent ultrasound and angiographic imaging made this possible. The patient felt much better and was discharged home the next day after his confirmatory duplex.

Nutcracker Syndrome techniques Venous venous intervention

Nutcracker Syndrome: A Simplified Approach With Gonadal Vein Transposition


The patient is a young woman in her twenties who developed severe right sided abdominal and back pain about 4 months prior to presentation associated with bouts of bloody urine. Activity and standing exacerbated her pain and inactivity and recumbency relieved it. She gained 15 pounds because of her inactivity. Examination was significant for tenderness over her left kidney. Urinanalysis showed positive proteinuria and hemaglobinuria.

Prior to consultation with me she had had an MR venogram showing compression of her left renal vein by the superior mesenteric artery (nutcracker phenomena). The presence of hematuria, proteinuria, and pain (albeit atypically right sided) made it nutcracker syndrome.

MRV color_Image006
Dilated left gonadal vein and pelvic varices indicate left renal vein (LRV) ouflow obstruction by the superior mesenteric artery (SMA)

I ordered a renal duplex and a CT venogram for procedural planning.


On the duplex, the proximal left renal vein (LRV) was not visualized. The right kidney had normal parenchymal appearance and blood flows, while the left, the kidney appeared distended and had flows consistent with outflow obstruction.

spectral kidneys
Spectral Doppler flows show respirophasicity in right renal vein(RRV), outflow obstruction on left renal vein (LRV)

Duplex kidneys bmode
The left kidney is swollen and tender.

CT Venography showed the gonadal vein to be an important outflow vessel to the left renal vein with dilated proximal segment and reflux into pelvic varices.


CTA processed_5CTA processed_4

A left gonadal vein to iliac vein transposition was planned via a left lower quadrant retroperitoneal exposure. On the table, a venogram was performed with selective access of the left renal vein.


The injection from the LRV showed severe compression of the LRV with a channel only slightly larger than the sheath and avid reflux into the gonadal vein. Selective access into the gonadal vein and venography from a confluence in the pelvis showed that flow was one way from the LRV into the gonadal vein and this filled a large region of pelvic varices.



The gonadal vein was large caliber and refluxed into two large veins in the pelvis. The one that fed the varices was not selected for transposition, but rather the longer straighter tributary. A catheter was left for easier identification during the dissection.

A left lower quadrant incision was made and a retroperitoneal dissection performed exposing the gonadal vein and iliac vein.




Prior to ligation of the tributaries, a sheath was inserted and through this a LeMaitre valvulotome was brought up to the left renal vein and carefully deployed and pulled back, cutting the valves. This greatly increased the outflow from the vein as evidenced by the height of the blood spout from the vein when the sheath was removed. The varices were ligated at their root -treating them definitively. Transposition was to the external iliac vein, and I could see the feasibility of a laparoscopic or robotic approach to this operation (ref 3).

Completion venography showed excellent flow from the LRV down the gonadal vein into the iliac venous system.


The patient lost less than 10mL of blood and was discharged on postop day 2. Gratifyingly, all of her preoperative pain resolved and her UA showed no more hemoglobinuria or proteinuria.


The described treatment options for nutcracker syndrome include (ref 1):

  1. Medical therapy aimed at decreasing renal venous hypertension (for hematuria)
  2. Renal autotransplantation
  3. Left renal vein transposition
  4. Left renal vein to vena cava bypass (autologous or PTFE)
  5. SMA transposition
  6. Nephrectomy
  7. Gonadal vein to IVC bypass
  8. Exovascular stenting (wrap of renal vein with ringed PTFE graft)
  9. Endovascular stenting

Many of the operations are of historic interest. Stenting deserves some comment. The patient self referred because she had read multiple reports of cardioembolization on internet support group comments. The largest nitinol stent (self expanding) available is 14mm. Wall stents in larger diameters are available, but are stiff, poorly conformable, and will elongate if constrained by a non-dilating stenosis like the external compression by the SMA. While acceptable results have been reported, the long term results (20-70 years) for younger patients is unknown. Migration is highly morbid, and usually to the heart, requiring sternotomy and cardiotomy to retrieve the stent. Optimally, a conforming 16-28mm self expanding stent should eventually become available, but conformability is typically inversely proportional to radial strength, and it is the less conformable stents that migrate. Work is ongoing to bring larger diameter nitinol stents for venous indications. The difference between May-Thurner Syndrome and Nutcracker syndrome isn’t merely the size of the veins and stents. The iliocaval confluence is relatively static with some movement of the lumbosacral joints and well suited for treatment with the relatively nonconforming Wall Stents. The left renal vein under the SMA is a very dynamic environment with motion of the SMA and the kidneys with respiration, ambulation, and activity leaving stents vulnerable early to migration and later to fracture.

The left renal vein transposition to the IVC is a nice operation with a good track record (ref 2). The downside is the long midline incision required with transperitoneal exposure. There is bleeding risk and postoperative complications of ileus, wound infection, and small bowel obstruction. Looking at the CTV, it seems obvious that the gonadal vein crosses over the iliac vein in the pelvis and would be a straightforward, less morbid, less invasive option. A review of the literature reveals only a single reference discussing three cases of left renal vein transposition (ref 3), and it was done with a surgical robot. I think that a laparoscopic approach would be simpler and less invasive and will consider developing this if volumes justify it. That said, the open retroperitoneal approach is very straightforward and well used exposure. Using venography to set up and then confirm the results of the transposition was helpful. I don’t think that measuring pressures and diameters and taking calipers to calculate stenoses is all that useful and in some instances a harmful method of justifying endovascular treatment of nutcracker phenomena in the absence of serious symptoms and a careful deliberate workup which includes a good history and physical, a UA, a duplex and CTV.

Intervening on the gonadal vein to iliac vein anastomosis should be straightforward from a groin or thigh venous access on the ipsilateral side. This operation doesn’t preclude any future interventions on the LRV. The pelvic varices were treated with direct ligation. The patient’s pain was successfully relieved in the short term.

Conclusion: Open retroperitoneal left gonadal vein to iliac vein transposition with gonadal vein valvulotomy is effecting in treating nutcracker syndrome.


  1. Kurklinsky AK, Rooke TW. Mayo Clin Proc. 2010 Jun; 85(6): 552–559.
  2. Reed NR et al. J Vasc Surg. 2009 Feb;49(2):386-93;
  3. White JV et al. J Vasc Surg Venous Lymphat Disord. 2016 Jan;4(1):114-8.