Intermittent Pneumatic Compression (IPC) Device

Overview

What is an intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

Intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices are inflatable sleeves that you wear on your calves (lower legs). Healthcare providers most often prescribe them while you are in the hospital. The sleeves inflate every 20 to 60 seconds, then deflate. The sensation feels like a leg massage. An IPC device may also be called a sequential compression device (SCD).

How do intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices work?

The inflating and deflating movement of the IPC device supports your circulation. Healthy movement of blood in your body prevents blood clots from forming.

When the sleeves compress, it helps the blood move through your body to your heart. When they relax, oxygen-rich blood flows to your leg arteries. The sleeves also help your body release substances that can prevent clots .

Who needs an intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

Hospitals most often use IPC devices for people who are less active while recovering from illness or surgery. This inactivity could lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) — a blood clot that can be dangerous or even deadly.

DVT usually forms in one of the veins of the thigh or lower leg. Intermittent pneumatic compression devices help prevent DVT and other blood clots.

The device can also help:

  • After a stroke: People who have had a stroke may be less active.
  • Treat lymphedema: The device reduces swelling due to lymphedema.

Who is at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

DVT is common, especially in older adults. But it can happen to people at any age. The risk is higher if you are in the hospital for an extended period while recovering from surgery or after a stroke.

Other conditions that can raise your DVT risk include:

  • Age (older than 40).
  • Blood disorders that increase clotting.
  • Cancer treatment.
  • Conditions that make it difficult for you to move.
  • Excess weight.
  • Injury to a vein.
  • Long travel by plane or car.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Smoking.

What happens if I have deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

A clot forms in a vein, most commonly in the leg, thigh or pelvis. This can result in swelling and pain in the in a leg. The clot can break free and travel through the bloodstream. If gets stuck in a blood vessel in your lung, is can cause a blockage called a pulmonary embolism (PE). PE can cause severe shortness of breath and even sudden death. Intermittent compression devices help to prevent this life-threatening scenario. If you notice pain or swelling in your leg or experience new shortness of breath, please tell your nurse or healthcare provider.

Procedure Details

What happens when I wear the intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

You use the IPC device as part of your recovery in the hospital or sometimes at home. It is an important part of your care. Wear the device when you are resting in bed or sitting in a chair.

The sleeves, or cuffs, attach to a compression machine. The sleeves inflate and deflate. It may feel a little strange, but it shouldn’t hurt. Let your nurse or healthcare provider know if you feel pain.

When do I take off the intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

You can remove the IPC device when you bathe or shower. You should remove your IPCs before getting up to walk as wearing them while you move about may make you more likely to trip and fall.

Please call your nurse for assistance.

What happens if the device is not inflating?

If the sleeves aren’t inflating, tell your nurse or healthcare provider.

Risks / Benefits

What are the advantages of the intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

The leg compression helps your blood circulate and lowers your risk of blood clots. It offers the benefits of movement without medication, when you’re unable to be active.

Are there risks of intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices?

You may feel some discomfort or warmth under the sleeve. IPC devices may cause skin irritation and, in rare cases, nerve damage or a pressure injury.

Will I need other treatments to prevent blood clots?

Your healthcare provider may prescribe a blood-thinning medication. These medications may be more effective than a compression device. But they come with higher risks, such as excessive bleeding. Your provider may recommend both the compression device and a blood thinner. Once you are able to do so, walking in the halls four to five times a day is also an easy way to help prevent blood clots.

Recovery and Outlook

How can I get the most from the intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

Do some simple foot exercises during the day. Point and flex your feet a few times an hour while you’re awake. Point your toes toward the floor, then toward your face.

If your care team says it’s safe to get out of bed, take short walks several times a day to get your blood flowing.

When do I stop using the intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) device?

Ask your healthcare provider how long you should use the device. Typically, once you get up and move regularly like you were before, the risk of DVT decreases, and you can stop wearing the IPC device.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Tell your healthcare provider if you have:

  • Swelling or warmth in your leg.
  • Pain in your leg or skin.
  • Skin sores under the sleeves.
  • Shortness of breath.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An intermittent pneumatic compression device (IPC) or sequential compression device may be part of your care after surgery. Because you’re less active as you recover, you’re at higher risk of developing potentially dangerous blood clots. To lower the risk of blood clots and DVT, your healthcare provider may recommend a compression sleeve. The IPC inflates and deflates to help your blood circulate and reduce your risk of blood clots. If you feel swelling or pain in your leg or shortness of breath tell your nurse or healthcare provider.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/27/2020.

References

  • National Cancer Institute. Accessed 10/18/2020.Lymphedema (PDQ) – Patient Version. (https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/lymphedema/lymphedema-pdq)
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed 10/18/2020.Venous Thromboembolism. (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/venous-thromboembolism)
  • Comerota AJ, Aziz F. . Journal of Lymphoedema. 2009; Vol. 4, No. 2: 57-64 [PDF]. Accessed 10/18/2020.The case for intermittent pneumatic compression (https://www.woundsinternational.com/download/wint_article/7127)
  • Merck Manual. . Accessed 10/18/2020.Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/venous-disorders/deep-vein-thrombosis-dvt?query=intermittent%20pneumatic%20compression%20devices)
  • Gould MK, Garcia DA. Wren SM, et al. Antithrombotic Therapy and Prevention of Thrombosis, 9th ed: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines. Chest 2012 Feb; 141(2 Suppl): e227S–e277S. Accessed 10/18/2020.Prevention of VTE in Nonorthopedic Surgical Patients. (https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(12%2960125-1/fulltext)

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