Phlebitis, or thrombophlebitis, is the swelling of a vein caused by a blood clot. It can be superficial or deep. Superficial phlebitis is the most common, and it usually involves the swelling of a leg vein near the skin’s surface. Deep phlebitis involves the swelling of a vein deep inside the leg. It is less common but more serious. A deep vein thrombosis can break apart, travel through the bloodstream, and cause a pulmonary embolism, a heart attack, or a stroke.

What Causes Phlebitis?

An extended hospitalization for major surgery or prolonged illness, a disease or disorder that causes blood clots, and sitting for long periods of time (such as during a long flight) can all cause phlebitis.


Superficial phlebitis causes red, painful, and swollen skin. Deep phlebitis causes intense pain, deep swelling, and fever.


A diagnosis of phlebitis can often be made based on the appearance of the affected area. The patient’s pulse, blood pressure, temperature, skin condition, and circulation are usually checked frequently to prevent complications. Nuclear scans, venous Doppler flow studies, and blood flow plethysmography are also used to diagnose deep vein phlebitis. This type of phlebitis is more likely to lead to blood clots in the veins and, possibly, a pulmonary embolus. Therefore, if the cause can not be easily identified, one or more of the following tests may also be done: blood coagulation studies, Doppler ultrasound, or venography.


Superficial phlebitis is treated with moist heat, aspirin, compression, or anti-inflammatory medicines. Deep phlebitis treatment includes pain medication and a week-long administration of intravenous anticoagulant medicine followed by long-term oral anticoagulants. Treatment also involves checking for signs of pulmonary embolism or other complications.


Texas Heart Institute www.texasheartinstitute.com/HIC/Topics/Cond/pvd.cfm
Medline Plus www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thrombophlebitis.html