Learn more about this inflammation of a blood vessel that can interrupt flow.
Thrombophlebitis (throm-boe-fluh-BY-tis) is an inflammatory process that causes a blood clot to form and block one or more veins, usually in the legs. The affected vein might be near the surface of the skin (superficial thrombophlebitis) or deep within a muscle (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT).
Causes of thrombophlebitis include trauma, surgery or prolonged inactivity.
DVT increases the risk of serious health problems. It's usually treated with blood-thinning medications. Superficial thrombophlebitis is sometimes treated with blood-thinning medications, too.
A blood clot in a leg vein may cause pain, warmth and tenderness in the affected area.
Superficial thrombophlebitis signs and symptoms include:
Deep vein thrombosis signs and symptoms include:
When a vein close to the surface of the skin is affected, you might see a red, hard cord just under the surface of the skin that's tender to the touch. When a deep vein in the leg is affected, the leg may become swollen, tender and painful.
See your doctor right away if you have a red, swollen or tender vein — especially if you have one or more risk factors for thrombophlebitis.
Call 911 or your local emergency number if:
Have someone take you to your doctor or emergency room, if possible. It might be difficult for you to drive, and it's helpful to have someone with you to help you remember the information you receive.
The cause of thrombophlebitis is a blood clot, which can form in your blood as a result of:
Your risk of thrombophlebitis might increase if you:
If you have one or more risk factors, discuss prevention strategies with your doctor before taking long flights or road trips or if you're planning to have elective surgery, recovery from which will require you not to move much.
Complications from superficial thrombophlebitis are rare. However, if you develop DVT, the risk of serious complications increases. Complications might include:
A pulmonary embolism (PE) occurs when a blood clot gets stuck in an artery in the lung, blocking blood flow to part of the lung. Blood clots most often start in the legs and travel up through the right side of the heart and into the lungs. This is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Sitting during a long flight or car ride can cause your ankles and calves to swell and increases your risk of thrombophlebitis. To help prevent a blood clot:
To diagnose thrombophlebitis, your doctor will ask you about your discomfort and look for affected veins near your skin's surface. To determine whether you have superficial thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis, your doctor might choose one of these tests:
Ultrasound. A wandlike device (transducer) moved over the affected area of your leg sends sound waves into your leg. As the sound waves travel through your leg tissue and reflect back, a computer transforms the waves into a moving image on a video screen.
This test can confirm the diagnosis and distinguish between superficial and deep vein thrombosis.
Blood test. Almost everyone with a blood clot has an elevated blood level of a naturally occurring, clot-dissolving substance called D dimer. But D dimer levels can be elevated in other conditions. So a test for D dimer isn't conclusive, but can indicate the need for further testing.
It's also useful for ruling out DVT and for identifying people at risk of developing thrombophlebitis repeatedly.
For superficial thrombophlebitis, your doctor might recommend applying heat to the painful area, elevating the affected leg, using an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and possibly wearing compression stockings. The condition usually improves on its own.
Your doctor might also recommend these treatments for both types of thrombophlebitis:
Compression stockings, also called support stockings, press on the legs, improving blood flow. A stocking butler may help with putting on the stockings.
In addition to medical treatments, self-care measures can help improve thrombophlebitis.
If you have superficial thrombophlebitis:
Let your doctor know if you're taking another blood thinner, such as aspirin.
If you have deep vein thrombosis:
If you have time before your appointment, here's some information to help you get ready.
Make a list of:
For thrombophlebitis, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as: