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Phlebitis

What is phlebitis?

Phlebitis is also known as superficial thrombophlebitis and happens when a vein gets inflamed due to blood clots or damage to the walls of the vein.

This condition affects veins that are closest to the skin's surface, including varicose veins.

There are two sets of veins in the arms and legs: the superficial veins that run just under the skin and the deep veins.

phlebitis.jpg

Image: Superficial and deep vein systems in the leg.

Symptoms of phlebitis

Phlebitis is most common in the lower part of the legs, but can also affect the arms, breasts or a man's penis. Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Hard lumps under the skin
  • Skin redness.

Although phlebitis can be painful, it is not usually a serious problem, and should not usually affect a person's usual activities.

However, there is a small risk of a blood clot travelling around the body and causing problems in a vein deeper under the skin, called DVT ( deep vein thrombosis). This can cause more pain and swelling, plus aching in a leg.

Seek medical advice if symptoms suggest DVT rather than phlebitis, or if you have concerns.

What causes phlebitis?

It isn't always known why some people develop phlebitis, but doctors know some things increase the chances of it happening, including:

Treatment for phlebitis

There is no specific drug or treatment for phlebitis. The inflammation usually eases after a couple of weeks, but lumps and a darker colour to a patch of skin may remain for several months.

Basic home care steps for phlebitis include:

  • Keeping a leg raised
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Staying active to encourage good blood circulation
  • Easing pain with a cold flannel
  • Using anti-inflammatory painkillers such as aspirin
  • Using anti-inflammatory cream or gel on the skin around the affected vein.

Preventing phlebitis

Phlebitis can't always be prevented, but steps to reduce the risk include:

  • Keeping active, not sitting for too long, including on planes and long car journeys
  • Getting up and about as soon as possible after an operation, use of compression stocking to help prevent problems
  • Quitting smoking
  • Nurses or doctors doing injections, fitting IV drips or cannulas taking care to place the needle correctly and hygienically to help avoid the risk of phlebitis.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 02, 2016

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