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Superficial Thrombophlebitis

(Phlebitis; Thrombophlebitis)

Pronounced: fleh-BY-tis

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    TOP

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

Risk Factors    TOP

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    TOP

Superficial thrombophlebitis may cause:

  • A 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    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • Ultrasound
  • Venogram in which dye or contrast is injected

Treatment    TOP

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

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • Exercise
  • Compression stockings
  • Warm compress on the inflamed vein
  • Elevation

In some cases, the following treatment may be needed:

  • Blood thinning medication
  • Procedures to remove the blood clot

Prevention    TOP

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.

RESOURCES:

American College of Phlebology
http://www.phlebology.org
The Society for Vascular Surgery
http://www.vascularweb.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
http://canadianvascular.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

References:

McQuillan AD, Eikelboom JW, et al. Venous thromboembolism in travelers: can we identify those at risk? Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis. 2003 Oct;14(7):671-675.
Ramzi DW, Leeper KV. DVT and pulmonary embolism: Part I. Diagnosis. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(12):2829-2836.
Superficial vein thrombosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated September 23, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Vandenbroucke JP, Rosing J, et al. Oral contraceptives and the risk of venous thrombosis. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 17;344:1527-1535.
5/4/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Scott G, Mahdi AJ, et al. Superficial vein thrombosis: a current approach to management. Br J Haematol. 2015 Mar;168(5):639-645.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Last Updated: 5/4/2015

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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