Phlebitis

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Phlebitis means inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis means a blood clot causes inflammation of a vein. Phlebitis symptoms often includea slow onset of pain, throbbing or burning sensations in the affected area.

Phlebitis usually occurs in the arms or legs, and can be superficial or deep. Superficial phlebitis occurs in a vein close to the surface of the skin. This type of phlebitis is typically benign and has a favorable prognosis with low risk of the clot traveling to another part of your body.

Deep vein thrombophlebitis, also known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT, is more concerning and refers to a blood clot that causes inflammation in a deeper vein. This condition has a higher risk of the blood clot traveling to other blood vessels of your body, especially your lung, where it can cause a pulmonary embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition that interferes with blood flow to the lungs. 

Phlebitis Symptoms

If phlebitis causes inflammation, the area may feel painful, swollen and tender, and the skin may be red, itchy and warm. Sometimes phlebitis symptomsmay feel more intense when a leg is lowered after being elevated. If an infection is present, signs of phlebitismay include a low-grade fever, inflammation and breakdown of the skin.

Causes and Risks of Phlebitis

Common causes of phlebitis of phlebitis include:

  • Clotting disorders
  • Insertion of an intravenous catheter (IV) in the hospital
  • Local trauma or injury to the vein
  • Prolonged inactivity from long distance travel or bed rest
  • Recent surgical procedures, especially orthopedic procedures
  • Underlying cancer
  • Varicose veins

Other factors that may increase your risk of developing phlebitis include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Cigarette smoking

Although phlebitis cannot be avoided in all cases, there are some simple measures you can take to reduce your risk, including:

  • Early mobilization after surgery
  • Leg exercises during long distance travel or prolonged bed rest
  • Prompt removal of intravenous catheters
  • Quitting smoking

It is now common practice for hospitalized patients who are at risk for phlebitis to receive a low-dose blood thinner, such as heparin or enoxaparin (lovenox), to prevent blood clots from forming. This medication is usually injected just beneath the skin of the abdomen. 

Diagnosing Phlebitis

Aurora physicians are able to diagnose phlebitis by completing a careful medical history and physical examination. Sometimes they use ultrasound testing to help assess the clot or blockage, or they perform a blood test to check for D-dimer, a chemical that’s released by blood clots when they start to disintegrate.

There are several conditions that can mimic phlebitis such as cellulitis (a superficial skin infection), insect bites or lymphangitis (swelling and inflammation of the lymph nodes). Therefore, it’s imperative to have your condition diagnosed by a physician. 

Treating Phlebitis

You should seek treatment if your phlebitis causes pain and inflammation or shows signs of infection.Treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics if the condition shows signs of infection
  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to reduce pain and swelling
  • Blood thinners if you have phlebitis and a history of deep vein thrombosis
  • Compression stockings (knee or thigh high) to improve blood flow
  • Elevating the leg and applying warm compresses

If the phlebitis affects circulation or interferes with everyday activities, a surgical procedure known as vein ligation and stripping may be necessary. 

A Leader in Treating Phlebitis

Aurora Health Careoffers a multidisciplinary team approach for treating phlebitis and other vascular conditions. Our team includes vascular medicine specialists, vascular surgeons, wound care specialists and podiatrists all in one building.

Find a doctor or vascular specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.