What is phlebitis?
Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein. They become inflamed either due to a blood clot (thrombus) or because the vein walls are damaged. For this reason, the terms phlebitis and thrombophlebitis are used almost interchangeably. There are two types of phlebitis – superficial phlebitis affects the veins close to the surface of the skin and is usually not too serious; deep vein thrombophlebitis is more serious and affects the larger, deeper veins, frequently in the legs. Deep vein thrombophlebitis can be very serious if a blood clot breaks away and travels to the lungs, which would result in a pulmonary embolism.
What are the symptoms of phlebitis?
When it is a case of superficial phlebitis, symptoms may not appear, but if they do they generally tend to be pain, sensitivity, redness and bulging of the vein. The symptoms of deep vein thrombophlebitis are similar, but pain might be experienced throughout the entire limb, or the whole limb might suddenly swell. Some might also experience a fever.
What causes phlebitis?
Phlebitis is caused by blood clots which can form due to venous injury, or as a complication from a surgical procedure. There are also certain risk factors that increase the chances of a blood clot forming:
Can phlebitis be prevented?
Although phlebitis cannot always be prevented, controlling the risk factors can help:
- Stay active and exercise frequently
- Take walks on long flights and to wear flight socks
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight (if overweight)
What is the treatment for phlebitis?
Measures for superficial phlebitis you can take to treat it include:
- Keeping the leg raised
- Wear compression stockings
- Use anti-inflammatory medication
- Use a cold flannel to ease pain
- Keep moving to help the flow of blood
A specialist might also prescribe anticoagulants (blood-thinners) to stop additional blood clots forming and clot-dissolving medication for cases of deep vein thrombophlebitis. In some cases, the surgical removal of blood clots might be necessary or a bypass of an injured vein.