Superficial Thrombophlebitis

( Phlebitis; Thrombophlebitis)
  • 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.
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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.

    American College of Phlebology

    The Society for Vascular Surgery


    Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery

    Public Health Agency of Canada


    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.

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