What is superficial
Superficial thrombophlebitis is an inflammatory condition
of the veins due to a blood clot just below the surface of the skin. It usually
occurs in the legs, but it can occasionally occur in the arms and neck. Anyone
can develop superficial thrombophlebitis, but females are affected more than
What are the symptoms of superficial
Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis include:
- redness and inflammation of the skin along a vein
- warmth of the skin and tissue around the vein
- tenderness and pain that worsens with added pressure
- pain in the limb
- darkening of the skin over the vein
- hardening of the vein
Call your doctor if the above symptoms appear or get worse, or you develop
new symptoms such as fever and chills. This could be a sign of a more serious
illness or condition.
Who develops superficial thrombophlebitis?
Several factors increase the risk of developing superficial
thrombophlebitis. The more common risk factors include:
- recent IV, catheter, or injection into a vein
- sitting or lying down for too long, such as on a long
- varicose veins
- disorders that increase blood clotting
- oral contraceptives and hormone replacement medications
- being over the age of 60
- chemical irritation, such as from cancer treatments
- a stroke or injury that caused paralysis of the arms or
Superficial thrombophlebitis is also associated with more serious medical
- deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a deep
- cancers of the abdomen, such as pancreatic cancer
- Factor V Leiden, a genetic blood clotting disorder
- prothrombin gene mutation, a gene mutation that causes
a blood clotting disorder
- thromboangiitis obliterans, a blockage of the blood
vessels in the hands and feet
Several very rare conditions can also lead to the development of superficial
- antithrombin III (AT-III) deficiency
- protein C deficiency
- protein S deficiency
How is superficial thrombophlebitis
Your doctor will examine the affected area and the skin. They will also
- blood pressure
- blood flow
Your doctor may also perform the following tests:
a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to measure blood flow and blood
a combination of Doppler ultrasound and traditional ultrasound to capture
pictures of your blood flow
- Venography: a rarely used type of
X-ray that captures images of your blood flow by injecting a special dye
into your veins
- MRI or CT
scan that provides images of the affected area so your doctor can check
your veins for clots
- Skin or
blood culture, if an infection is also suspected: Your doctor will use a
cotton swab to take a sample of the surface of the skin, or draw blood
from a vein for laboratory tests.
What is the treatment for superficial
Superficial thrombophlebitis is treated at home in most cases. Your doctor
might recommend applying a warm compress to the affected area and elevating it
to relieve swelling. Wearing support stockings can also help reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as
ibuprofen or aspirin, can help reduce the redness and irritation caused by
inflammation. This condition usually goes away within two weeks. It can take
longer for the hardness in your vein to subside.
In rare, serious cases, removal or stripping of the vein is necessary. This
is more common if you have varicose veins.
Are there any long-term effects of superficial
Superficial thrombophlebitis is generally a short-term condition without
complications. Complications that may arise in rare cases include:
- Cellulitis: a skin infection
caused by bacteria and treated in most cases with antibiotics
vein thrombosis: a condition in which a blood clot forms in a vein
deeper inside your body. This condition can be life-threatening if the clot
breaks apart and travels to your lungs.
Except for these rare complications, you can expect a full recovery in one
to two weeks. Hardening of the vein may take a little longer to heal. Recovery
may also take longer if an infection is involved, or if you also have deep vein
Superficial thrombophlebitis may recur if you have varicose veins. Further
testing and treatment may be necessary if you have recurrent superficial
thrombophlebitis, but do not have varicose veins.
Can superficial thrombophlebitis be prevented?
Prevention of superficial thrombophlebitis is limited, but there are some
steps you can take.
If an IV is causing it, remove or change the location of the IV. The IV
should be taken out at the first sign of inflammation.
When traveling, make sure to stand up and move around every couple of hours.
Move your arms and legs around and stretch if you must sit or lie down for long
periods. Also, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you’re planning a
long trip or you have risk factors for superficial thrombophlebitis, talk to
your doctor about taking a low dose of aspirin daily.