What is Superficial Vein Thrombosis?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2018
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Superficial vein thrombosis is a condition in which a clot forms in one of the blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. These clots can form for a variety of reasons, from the recent use of an intravenous drip to a blood disorder that thickens the blood. Clots can be painful, and may be treated with compresses and anti-inflammatory medications. The condition is also sometimes referred to as superficial phlebitis.

Symptoms of superficial vein thrombosis include a visible red spot, which usually occurs when the vein is close to the skin. As the vein becomes inflamed and irritated, this may result in the visible red line developing down the length of the vein. The area may feel warm to the touch, and sore when under pressure. It is also not unusual for the individual to develop a mild fever.


The condition can be caused by a number of different factors. Trauma to the arms or legs may cause clots to develop in the injured limb, or the recent application of an intravenous drip or catheter can also cause the development of clots. Individuals who already have varicose veins are more likely to develop superficial vein thrombosis. It can also be caused by factors under the control of the individual, such as smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke, birth control medications, and lack of exercise. Some medical conditions cause the blood to thicken and form clots, and these can also make an individual vulnerable to superficial vein thrombosis.

Anti-inflammatory medications can help alleviate some of the uncomfortable pressure that develops with a surface clot. Regular exercise can help break up existing clots and help keep the condition from developing again. In cases where the condition becomes chronic, blood thinners may be prescribed. If an infection develops around the area, antibiotics may also be prescribed.

In some individuals, the development of superficial vein thrombosis can indicate a more serious condition. While the development of blood clots in the surface vessels is generally a mild condition that can be easily treated, many individuals who develop this problem are also at risk for deep vein thrombosis. Also known as deep vein phlebitis, this is a similar condition, where clots form in the blood vessels. Unlike superficial vein thrombosis, these clots form deep within major veins and can be life-threatening if dislodged and carried to the heart or lungs. Many times, a medical professional will evaluate an individual with superficial vein thrombosis for deep vein thrombosis.


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