Thrombophlebitis

Thrombophlebitis is a body process that forms a blood clot that blocks one or more veins, usually in your legs. The affected vein might be near the surface of your skin (superficial thrombophlebitis) or deeper inside the leg (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT).

Causes include trauma, surgery or prolonged inactivity.

DVT is a serious health issue and we usually treat it with blood thinning drugs. Superficial thrombophlebitis is sometimes treated with blood thinning drugs, too.

Do I Have Thrombophlebitis?

Symptoms for superficial thrombophlebitis may include:

  • Warmth, pain, and tenderness in the affected area
  • Redness and swelling

Symptoms for DVT include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling

When suffering from a superficial thrombophlebitis, you might see a hard red cord just under the surface of your skin. When a deep vein in the leg is affected, your leg may be swollen, painful, and tender.

Risk factors include:

  • Have varicose veins, which are a common cause of superficial thrombophlebitis
  • Are inactive for a prolonged period, either because you’re confined to bed or are traveling in a car or plane for a long period
  • Are pregnant or have just given birth
  • Age 60 or older
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have a pacemaker or have a thin, flexible tube (catheter) in a central vein, for treatment of a medical condition, which may irritate the blood vessel wall and decrease blood flow
  • Use birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, which can make your blood more likely to clot
  • Have a family history of a blood-clotting disorder or a tendency to form blood clots
  • Previous episodes of thrombophlebitis
  • Have had a stroke
  • Smoke
  • Have cancer

If you have one or more risk factors, you should follow our prevention strategies listed below. Make sure you discuss your health with your doctor if you’re planning to have a surgery, or are taking a road trip or long flight.

Complications

Complications from superficial thrombophlebitis are rare. However, if you develop DVT, the risk of serious complications increases.

Complications might include:

  • Pulmonary embolism. If part of a deep vein clot becomes dislodged, it can travel to your lungs, where it can block an artery (embolism) and become potentially life-threatening.
  • Post-phlebetic syndrome. Post-phlebetic syndrome can cause lasting and possibly disabling pain, swelling and a feeling of heaviness in the affected leg.

Prevention

Sitting during a long flight or car ride can cause your ankles and calves to swell and increases your risk of thrombophlebitis.

To help prevent a blood clot:

  • Take a walk. If you’re flying or riding a train or bus, walk up and down the aisle once an hour or so. If you’re driving, stop every hour or so and move around.
  • Move your legs regularly. Flex your ankles, or carefully press your feet against the floor or footrest in front of you at least 10 times each hour.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids to avoid dehydration.

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