What is Phlebitis?

Developing phlebitis comes as a surprise to many patients since in mild cases, few symptoms might accompany this vein inflammation.  Physicians who treat the disorder are typically vascular surgeons or vein specialists.

Overview of Phlebitis

Phlebitis is the term for inflammation of a vein.  Specialists who provide phlebitis treatment usually associate the disorder with the lower extremities.

According to American Family Physician, among the more serious complications of phlebitis are venous stasis ulcers, which affect roughly 1 percent of U.S. residents.  They account for as many as 80 percent of ulcers in the lower extremities.

Superficial phlebitis occurs in a superficial vessel under the skin’s surface.  Physicians refer to a blood clot that causes phlebitis in the deeper vessels of the body as deep vein thrombophlebitis, also called deep venous thrombophlebitis or deep vein thrombosis, MedicineNet.com reports.  Doctors consider these clots dangerous because they might break free, travel to the patient’s lungs, and cause a pulmonary embolism.

Many factors can cause phlebitis.  Among the most common are these:

  • Injury to a vein
  • Extended period of inactivity, such as traveling by airplane
  • Insertion of IV catheters
  • The period following surgery, especially after an orthopedic procedure
  • Being bedridden or otherwise immobilized
  • Having varicose veins
  • Cancer
  • Clotting problems
  • Burns

Among the risk factors specifically associated with deep vein thrombophlebitis are being pregnant, taking hormones or birth control pills, smoking, and carrying excess weight.   According to emedicinehealth, the most frequent symptoms of superficial phlebitis include the slow development of a hard, tender, red area that follows the pattern of affected superficial veins; itching; leg swelling; and leg pain the patient might perceive as throbbing or burning.

Some patients experience a low-grade fever or tenderness in the area surrounding the spot where an IV line was placed.  When there is an infection, the skin might actually break down.  Sometimes symptoms worsen when a patient lowers the affected leg, particularly when arising in the morning.

Classic symptoms linked to deep vein thrombophlebitis include warmth, leg pain, leg swelling, and redness.  Sometimes skin takes on a blue rather than a red hue.

Phlebitis Treatment Options

Specialists can offer a number of therapeutic options for this vein inflammation.  For the superficial type, phlebitis treatment includes warm compresses, anti-inflammatory medications, elevation of the limb, and wearing compression stockings.  If the individual has a skin infection, antibiotics might be appropriate.

When deep vein thrombophlebitis develops, doctors prescribe anticoagulation or blood thinning to help avoid a pulmonary embolism, which is a life-threatening complication.  Drugs commonly used include enoxaparin (Lovenox) and warfarin (Coumadin).  Certain ulcers might require surgery.

Physicians note that the best way to prevent this disorder is to stay active, take advantage of daily exercise, and move around occasionally when traveling for long periods.  Patients confined to extended bed rest can lower their phlebitis risk by wearing supportive stockings.