PHLEBITIS Q & A
What Is Phlebitis?
Phlebitis is the inflammation of a vein. The type of phlebitis is characterized by the location of the affected veins:
- Superficial Phlebitis – Inflammation of veins near the surface of the skin is a less serious condition.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis – When phlebitis is in deeper veins, it is also known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
- Thrombophlebitis – When the inflammation causes blood clotting, it is known as thrombophlebitis.
As with superficial phlebitis, acute superficial thrombophlebitis occurs just under the surface of the skin and should be monitored by a trained vascular physician. If phlebitis escalates to DVT and a clot occurs deeper in the body, the clot can migrate to other parts of the body and cause an embolism. Phlebitis generally occurs in leg veins, but vein inflammation can also affect arm veins.
What Causes Phlebitis?
Phlebitis can be caused by a variety of situations:
- varicose veins cause excessive stretching of the leg veins
- a blood clot develops, triggering an inflammatory response
- periods of prolonged sitting due to travel
- IV sites becoming tender and sore
- trauma to a vein
Frequently Asked Questions
Phlebitis Patient Education
What Are Phlebitis Symptoms?
Inflammation is the body’s response to tissue damage. Symptoms that may occur in areas affected by superficial phlebitis include:
- redness, including long, thin lines along the vein’s path
- warm to the touch
- skin may feel hard
- itching and burning
- throbbing sensations
- swollen skin
- worsening symptoms when leg is lowered
- low grade fever if infection
Symptoms of acute superficial thrombophlebitis and DVT are similar to those of superficial phlebitis but more intense:
- more severe redness, warmth, swelling
- increased pain and discomfort
- occasionally discoloration can be more blue than red
- one leg more swollen than the other
- more feelings of aching, throbbing and leg heaviness
What Are Risk Factors for Phlebitis?
Risk factors for phlebitis and thrombophlebitis include:
- being sedentary for long periods, due to travel, illness, injury, or lifestyle
- medication with estrogen (birth control, HRT, etc.)
- varicose veins
- blood clotting disorder
- recent trauma to limb, especially if to a varicose vein
Can Phlebitis Be Something Else?
Sometimes a bacterial infection called cellulitis can mimic phlebitis symptoms. Also, other auto-immune diseases and dermatologic conditions can appear like phlebitis. That is why it is important to get medical attention if you experience any symptoms. Many patients with superficial phlebitis also have an underlying condition called venous reflux. With venous reflux, the patient’s leg vein valves malfunction. This causes blood to flow back down into the legs, where it pools. It is helpful to treat the diseased veins to help prevent more superficial phlebitis.
How Is Phlebitis Diagnosed?
Phlebitis is diagnosed based on medical examination, medical history, symptoms, and venous ultrasound. It is important to seek medical attention if there are symptoms of phlebitis, allowing the condition to be monitored before it evolves to DVT.
Does Phlebitis Need Treatment?
If there are any symptoms of phlebitis, it is important to get diagnosed promptly. Early intervention can prevent any blood clots from causing an embolism if DVT is present. Once diagnosed, the vascular doctor will recommend a treatment plan that will also address any underlying vascular conditions.
What Are Phlebitis Treatments?
Conservative measures for phlebitis include compression stockings, elevation, and warm compresses. Medications may also be recommended, such as anti-inflammatories and prescribed antibiotics, if infection is present. Blood thinners may also be part of the treatment plan. If additional treatment is required, an interventional radiologist can perform minimally invasive procedures, such as sclerotherapy and ablation to treat the venous reflux, blood clots, varicose veins and/or any other underlying concerns.
What to Expect from Phlebitis Treatment?
Since only a small incision is needed, there are no stitches. Patients with phlebitis will be able to go home the same day as the procedure. Also, recovery time is much shorter than traditional surgery, so daily activities can often be resumed in 24 hours. In terms of recurrence, treating the underlying venous condition can have a high success rate in preventing more phlebitis.
As an interventional radiologist who specializes in vascular disease, Dr. Jilbert Eradat is well-qualified to handle phlebitis and thrombophlebitis. At Alliance, we use the latest protocols in minimally invasive procedures for managing challenging, high-risk cases in patients who otherwise would have no treatment option.