What is phlebitis?

Phlebitis is a term used to describe veins that are painful, red and inflamed.

What is thrombophlebitis?

Thrombophlebitis means there is a blood clot in the vein (thrombosis or thromboembolism) that causes swelling and pain.

Superficial thrombophlebitis: If the vein that has the clot is just under the skin, it is called a superficial venous thrombosis or superficial thrombophlebitis. This type of clot does not usually travel to the lungs unless it reaches the deep veins. But, superficial thrombophlebitis can be painful and treatment may be needed.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): If the blood clot is in the veins deep in the body, it is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This type of clot can travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and block blood flow to the lungs. In severe cases, this can lead to death. Most DVTs require treatment right away.

What causes superficial thrombophlebitis?

Superficial thrombophlebitis can be caused by an injury to the arm or leg; having an intravenous (IV) line; or the cause may not be known.Potential risk factors are the same as for those who have deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and include:

  • An inherited (family) condition that increases your risk of blood clots
  • Cancer and some cancer treatments (chemotherapy)
  • Limited blood flow because of an injury, surgery, or not moving
  • Long periods of inactivity that decrease blood flow, such as:
    • Sitting for a long time, such as in a car, truck, bus, train or airplane
    • After surgery or a serious injury
  • Pregnancy and the first 6 weeks after giving birth
  • Being over age 40 (although clots can form at any age)
  • Being overweight
  • Taking birth control pills or hormone therapy, including for treatment for postmenopausal symptoms
  • Placement of a central venous catheter or pacemaker

What are the symptoms of thrombophlebitis?

  • Swelling of the leg or arm (sometimes this happens suddenly)
  • Pain or tenderness in the area of the clot
  • Feeling of increased warmth in the area of the clot
  • Red or discolored skin in the area of the clot

If thrombophlebitis causes pain or interferes with your daily activities, talk to your doctor about treatment options.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/03/2019.

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