Thrombophlebitis

Definition

Thrombophlebitis is swelling (inflammation) of a vein. A blood clot (thrombus) in the vein can cause this swelling.

Alternative Names

Phlebitis; Deep vein thrombosis - thrombophlebitis

Causes

Thrombophlebitis may affect deeper, larger veins or veins near the skin surface. Most of the time, it occurs in the pelvis and legs.

Blood clots may form when something slows or changes the flow of blood in the veins. Risk factors include:

  • A pacemaker catheter that has been passed through the vein in the groin
  • Bed rest or sitting in one position for too long such as plane travel
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Fractures in the pelvis or legs
  • Giving birth within the last 6 months
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Recent surgery (most commonly hip, knee, or female pelvic surgery)
  • Too many blood cells being made by the bone marrow, causing the blood to be thicker than normal (polycythemia vera)
  • Having an indwelling (long-term) catheter in a blood vessel

Blood is more likely to clot in someone who has certain problems or disorders, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Conditions that make it more likely to develop blood clots
  • Taking estrogens or birth control pills (this risk is even higher with smoking)

Symptoms

The following symptoms are often associated with thrombophlebitis:

  • Swelling in the part of the body affected
  • Pain in the part of the body affected
  • Skin redness (not always present)
  • Warmth and tenderness over the vein

Exams and Tests

The health care provider can usually diagnose the condition based on how the affected area looks. Your provider will frequently check your vital signs. This is to make sure you don't have complications.

If the cause cannot be easily identified, 1 or more of the following tests may be done:

Treatment

Support stockings and wraps can help to reduce discomfort. Your provider may prescribe medicines such as:

  • Painkillers
  • Blood thinners to prevent new clots from forming, most often only prescribed when deep veins are involved
  • Medicines such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling
  • Medicines injected into the vein to dissolve an existing clot

You may be told to do the following:

  • Keep pressure off the area to reduce pain and decrease the risk of further damage.
  • Raise the affected area to reduce swelling.

Rare treatment options are:

  • Surgical removal of a vein near the surface
  • Vein stripping
  • Bypass of the vein

Outlook (Prognosis)

Prompt treatment can treat thrombophlebitis and its other forms.

Possible Complications

Complications of thrombosis include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have symptoms of thrombophlebitis.

Call your provider right away if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • New symptoms occur (such as an entire limb becoming pale, cold, or swollen).

Prevention

Routine changing of intravenous (IV) lines helps to prevent thrombophlebitis related to IVs.

If you are taking a long car or plane trip:

  • Walk or stretch your legs once in a while
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Wear support hose

If you are hospitalized, your provider may prescribe medicine to prevent thrombophlebitis.

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.

Poi MJ, Lin PH. Deep venous thrombosis. In: Cameron JL, Cameron AM, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:963-967.

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


Review Date: 1/10/2016
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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