Phlebitis or thrombophlebitis is swelling of a vein, usually with the presence of large or small blood clot(s) in the vein. There are essentially two types of this condition: superficial phlebitis, and deep vein phlebitis or thrombosis (DVT). Superficial phlebitis is less severe though it still requires medical treatment. DVT can be a life threatening condition, since large clots in a vein can break off, enter the blood stream and cause stroke.
Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis include the following:
- Swelling of the vein
- Swelling, redness, and/or tightness of skin around the vein
- Slight Fever
- Burning or uncomfortable feeling around the vein
Symptoms of DVT may not be present, but in more severe cases you may note the following:
- Swelling and discomfort of the entire limb in which the vein is located
- Tightness, burning and discomfort around the vein
- Redness around the vein or redness in the limb affected.
Both superficial and deep vein phlebitis can be caused by the same factors. These include:
- Sitting for long periods of time, as in a car, or airplane for a long trip
- Birth Control Pills
- Inactive lifestyle
- Traumatic injury to a vein
Treatment of phlebitis in either form is very important. In DVT, it’s vital that clots are broken up, either through medication inserted into the veins to break up the clot, or by taking oral medication like aspirin to help prevent further clotting. The same treatment may also be used for superficial phlebitis. Further, using compression at the site may help both types, as does using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. DVT may require hospitalization and surgery to remove blood clots. In both conditions, patients will be counseled on lifestyle choices that may be causing the condition.
Most patients are asked to pursue a heart healthy diet, get more exercise, and asked to cease smoking if they do. If patients are healthy in most respects but take hormonal birth control, they will be counseled on other methods that don’t pose this risk. It’s also important for patients not to remain sedentary for long periods of time especially if they have had DVT. If they plan to travel by air or take long car trips, they should also plan to get up and stretch the legs every hour or so to be certain clots don’t form in the legs.
Though swelling in superficial veins is uncomfortable and requires treatment, it can also provide a warning for patients that their lifestyle may be affecting their health significantly. This early form can signify a person will progress to DVT later. It therefore needs attention immediately to help find and eliminate the cause, when possible, so that a person can lessen his or her risk for stroke.