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Definition

Superficial thrombophlebitis is inflammation of a vein close to the surface of the skin. It occurs most often in the leg. The condition is easily treatable, though it sometimes leads to more serious health concerns.

Thrombophlebitis
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Causes

Superficial thrombophlebitis is caused by a blood clot in a vein that is close to the surface of the skin.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of developing superficial thrombophlebitis include:

  • Trauma especially to the lower leg
  • Blood clotting disorder
  • Sitting for long periods of time, such as riding in a car or on an airplane
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Prior episodes of phlebitis
  • Certain cancers
  • Paralysis, which may be caused by a stroke
  • Family history of blood clotting disorders
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy

Symptoms

Superficial thrombophlebitis may cause:

  • A very visible, cord-like vein that is tender and sensitive to pressure. This visibility may develop over several hours to days.
  • Redness and warmth surrounding the vein.
  • Swelling around the vein.

A complication of superficial thrombophlebitis is a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is a blood clot in the deeper veins that causes obstruction of blood flow. This can lead to pulmonary embolism , a serious situation that occurs when the blood clot breaks free and gets lodged in the lungs.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include the following:

  • X-ray or ultrasound to check for deeper blood clots
  • Venogram in which dye or contrast is injected
  • Screening for blood disorders with recurrent episodes of phlebitis

Treatment

In most cases, superficial thrombophlebitis goes away on its own after a few weeks. Treatment can be done at home with the following:

  • Oral or topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Exercise
  • Compression stockings
  • Warm compress on the inflamed vein
  • Elevation

If you are diagnosed with superficial thrombophlebitis, follow your doctor's instructions .

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of superficial thrombophlebitis, take these steps:

  • If you fly for long periods of time, walk around the cabin and stretch your limbs every hour or so.
  • If you drive for long periods of time, pull over every hour or so and stretch your limbs.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing around your waist.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Revision Information

  • American College of Phlebology

    http://www.phlebology.org

  • The Society for Vascular Surgery

    http://www.vascularweb.org

  • Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery

    http://canadianvascular.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • McQuillan AD, Eikelboom JW, Baker RI. Venous thromboembolism in travelers: can we identify those at risk? Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis. 2003 Oct;14(7):671-5.

  • Ramzi DW, Leeper KV. DVT and pulmonary embolism: Part I. Diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(12):2829-2836.

  • Vandenbroucke JP, Rosing J, Bloemenkamp KWM, Middeldorp S, Helmerhorst FM, Bouma BN. Oral contraceptives and the risk of venous thrombosis. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 17;344:1527-1535.