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Superficial thrombophlebitis

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Superficial thrombophlebitis occurs when the superficial veins in your skin become inflamed with the potential of having a small blood clot inside of it. It typically occurs in the veins in your leg but it can occur in any vein on your body. 

Different things can trigger the inflammation to occur. Trauma or injury to the vein (for example from a blood test), people with problems with their veins already (for example varicose veins or a previous blood clot), or people who have conditions that make their blood clot more easily. People who smoke, or are immobile or have had major surgery are also more at risk.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis are usually mild. They can cause pain, swelling, and redness along the course of the vein. In some cases, you may also feel unwell with a fever. 

If a clot develops inside the vein, it will usually feel hard and thickened. Only small areas are usually affected, and they are nothing to worry about as the blood can be carried via other superficial veins. When the swelling settles, your veins may be slightly discolored appearing bruised or darkened. 

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned you have superficial thrombophlebitis, book a routine appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will examine the area of concern and let you know if this is superficial thrombophlebitis. No further investigations are needed to diagnose this but if there is any concern that this may be a deep vein thrombosis then you will likely have further tests arranged. 

If the problem continues to happen, you may be asked to have blood tests to exclude the likelihood of a clotting disorder being present or an underlying condition that causes the vessels to become inflamed. 

How can I manage the symptoms?

Mild symptoms will likely go away on their own and this can take a few weeks. 

You can do simple things at home that can help. Staying fit and active is always advised to ensure that there is good circulation around your body. Keeping your leg elevated when you are sitting down to help encourage the return of blood to the heart. Your doctor may advise you to use compression stockings to help with this process and reduce swelling. 

If there is evidence of inflammation a cool flannel over the vein can help ease the symptoms.  Ibuprofen (tablet or gel form) or paracetamol can be used to reduce pain and inflammation. 

Are there any complications?

It is important to watch out for signs of infection, which can cause worsening pain, redness, warmth and swelling in the area. You may also feel generally unwell. In this event, you will need antibiotics and it is advised to speak to your doctor straight away. 

In some cases, a deep vein thrombosis can form from an extension of phlebitis. If you experience worsening pain, whole leg swelling, hardness or inflammation extending up the leg or you feel unwell in yourself with difficulty breathing or chest pain then it is important to seek urgent medical attention.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023