Superficial thrombophlebitis

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Definition

Thrombophlebitis is a swollen or inflamed vein due to a blood clot. Superficial refers to veins just below the skin's surface.

Alternative Names

Thrombophlebitis - superficial

Causes

This condition may occur after injury to the vein. Or it may occur after having medicines given into your veins. If you have a high risk for blood clots, you may develop them for no apparent reason.

Risks for thrombophlebitis include:

  • Cancer or liver disease
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Disorders that involve increased blood clotting (may be inherited)
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or staying still for a prolonged period
  • Use of birth control pills
  • Swollen, twisted, and enlarged veins (varicose veins)

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Skin redness, inflammation, tenderness, or pain along a vein just below the skin
  • Warmth of the area
  • Limb pain
  • Hardening of the vein

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will diagnose this condition based mainly on the appearance of the affected area. Frequent checks of the pulse, blood pressure, temperature, skin condition, and blood flow may be needed.

Ultrasound of the blood vessels helps confirm the condition.

If there are signs of an infection,

or may be done.

Treatment

To reduce discomfort and swelling, your provider may recommend that you:

  • Wear support stockings, if your leg is affected.
  • Keep the affected leg or arm raised above heart level.
  • Apply a warm compress to the area.

If you have a catheter or IV line, it will likely be removed if it is the cause of the thrombophlebitis.

Medicines called NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, may be prescribed to reduce pain and swelling.

If clots in the deeper veins are also present, your provider may prescribe medicines to thin your blood. These medicines are called anticoagulants. Antibiotics are prescribed if you have an infection.

Surgical removal (phlebectomy), stripping, or sclerotherapy of the affected vein may be needed. These treat large varicose veins or to prevent thrombophlebitis in high-risk people.

Outlook (Prognosis)

This is often a short-term condition that does not cause complications. Symptoms often go away in 1 to 2 weeks. Hardness of the vein may remain for much longer.

Possible Complications

Complications are rare. Possible problems may include the following:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if you develop symptoms of this condition.

Also call if you already have the condition and your symptoms worsen or do not get better with treatment.

Prevention

In the hospital, swollen or inflamed veins can be prevented by:

  • The nurse regularly changing the location of your IV line and removing it if swelling, redness, or pain develop
  • Walking and staying active as soon as possible after surgery or during a long-term illness

When possible, avoid keeping your legs and arms still for long periods. Move your legs often or take a stroll during long plane trips or car trips. Try to avoid sitting or lying down for long periods without getting up and moving about.

References

Ginsberg JS. Peripheral venous disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 81.

Rathman S. Superficial thrombophlebitis. In: Cronenwett JL, Johnston KW, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 54.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 6/6/2016
  • Deepak Sudheendra, MD, RPVI, Assistant Professor of Interventional Radiology & Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, with an expertise in Vascular Interventional Radiology & Surgical Critical Care, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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