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What are the Risks of Phlebitis?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Phlebitis is the inflammation of veins, which has a varying degree of risk depending upon the type. Phlebitis of surface veins, which are those one can see beneath the skin, tends to cause no risk, and usually requires no treatment. Surface phlebitis may warrant investigation for the more risky deep vein phlebitis, or thrombophlebitis.

Usually, the legs are affected in deep vein phlebitis. Symptoms can include pain or swelling in the leg affected. Some also may have a fever and the skin may appear red near the site of phlebitis. The leg may have lumps, and people in advanced stages of thrombophlebitis may also experience shortness of breath.

Deep vein phlebitis is a medical emergency. The vein often is swollen as a result of blockage by a blood clot. Pressure behind the clot can force the clot into the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism.

Pulmonary embolism means that blood has been blocked to some part of the lungs. When the lungs do not receive blood, the tissue can die off rapidly, resulting in reduced lung capacity, as well as damage to the heart, the brain and also can cause death. Those suspecting deep vein phlebitis should see a doctor immediately and can expect a few days of hospitalization to remove the blood clot.

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Those at higher risk for deep vein phlebitis are smokers, the obese, people who are inactive or have leg paralysis, and those taking birth control pills. Women on hormone replacement therapy are at increased risk, as are transsexuals taking estrogen to maintain a feminine appearance. Also, those who have had deep vein phlebitis in the past are at further risk for developing another clot.

Strangely enough, blood clots can also form in people who are on long flights. Current thought is that inactivity while on a plane flight, and the pressurization of the plane may be contributory factors. Getting up and walking once an hour, and wearing support stockings can help reduce this risk.

In general, not smoking, losing weight as needed, and maintaining an active life style can significantly reduce risk for deep vein phlebitis. Certain risk factors like smoking and taking birth control pills or estrogen together greatly increases risk. Anyone using estrogen should definitely cease smoking to reduce risk for phlebitis.

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