What is Thrombophlebitis?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Thrombophlebitis is medical condition where a blood clot forms and swells in at least one vein, usually in one of the legs, an arm, or the neck. There are two main kinds of thrombophlebitis: superficial and deep vein, with deep vein being the more serious of the two. Although the most common cause of the clots is inactivity, there may also be other causes, such as a genetic disorder or an injury to the vein. In most cases, these clots can be treated and, in some cases, they will disappear on their own.

The deep vein variety occurs deep with in the muscle, while the superficial variety of thrombophlebitis occurs just beneath the skin. The deep vein variety is more serious than superficial thrombophlebitis because it may lead to other health concerns, such as a dislodged blood clot called an embolism. The embolism can travel to the lungs or to the heart. If it blocks an artery bringing blood to either organ, it may be fatal for the affected person.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of thrombophlebitis. Generally, there may be tenderness or pain near the affected vein. In addition, there may be some swelling or redness. Sometimes there is a fever associated with the condition, and other times, there are no symptoms at all.


If the condition is superficial, the affected vein may be visible. Typically, it will look like a red cord, just under the skin’s surface. If the affected area is deep within the muscle, the entire leg, arm, or neck may become swollen and painful. In those cases, it will be most painful when the affected individual attempts to stand, walk, or use the affected limb.

The direct cause of thrombophlebitis is a clot of blood. The blood clot is usually caused when the blood does not circulate well. For example, if a person has injured a vein, a clot may form. In addition, if a person is affected by a genetic disorder that causes blood to clot, she may be prone to the condition. One of the most common causes is inactivity. For example, if a person sits for extended periods of time without moving her legs, such as when she travels by airplane or car, she may be prone for this condition.

If a person is affected by superficial thrombophlebitis, it may be possible to treat the condition at home. For example, heat may be applied to the affected area. In addition, the affected leg or arm should be elevated. Some doctors recommend over-the-counter varieties of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to minimize the pain and tenderness associated with the condition. Within a few weeks, the condition should improve — if it doesn't, a doctor should be consulted.

Deep vein thrombophlebitis may require more medical intervention. Sometimes an anticoagulant will be injected into the vein to prevent the clot from enlarging. Support stockings are often recommended to lower the likelihood of complications as well. In more serious occurrences of the condition, the vein may be stripped or the clot may be surgically removed.

There are steps that can be taken to prevent this potentially dangerous condition. For example, quitting smoking can lower the chances of forming a blood clot. Also, walking around the cabin of an airplane or taking a break periodically when driving or while working at a desk can help prevent clots from forming. Even flexing the ankles or lifting the legs while remaining in a seated position can help prevent the condition.


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