Phlebitis may seem like an inconvenience, but if it’s left untreated, it can have serious consequences.
Twisted and swollen blood vessels aren’t just a symptom of varicose veins. In some patients, they can be caused by phlebitis, a serious venous inflammation resulting from an injury to the blood vessel wall. Because the affected vein is usually a superficial vessel located in the legs, the condition is often associated with varicose veins, but its complications can be just as severe.
Since it results in an inflammation of the blood vessel, phlebitis restricts circulation, increasing the risk of blood clots. While superficial phlebitis is unlikely to cause a significant blood clot, the initial swelling can quickly progress and lead to a pulmonary embolism, endangering deeper veins. If a clot travels to a deeper vein or forms within it, it can cause thrombophlebitis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment.
Despite its unpleasant consequences, phlebitis can be easily treated if diagnosed early, and it’s just as easily prevented. If you’ve suffered from phlebitis in the past or might be vulnerable to it, we’ll tell you what you need to know about your condition here and offer some advice on managing it.
What Causes Phlebitis?
Phlebitis is often caused by localized trauma to a vein. An IV injection, for example, can tear or puncture a vein, resulting in inflammation. Phlebitis can also result from extended inactivity, however, since immobility reduces the frequency of muscle contractions, and fewer muscle contractions can cause blood to pool in veins. In some cases, phlebitis can be a complication of surgery, especially if the procedure entailed some contact with the inflamed vein.
While phlebitis can affect anybody, some individuals are more likely to develop it than others. Because their conditions leave them more susceptible to blood clots, patients with connective tissue disorders or breast, pancreatic, and ovarian cancer are at greater risk of suffering from phlebitis. In addition, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and a family history of blood clots all increase the likelihood of phlebitis.
What Are the Primary Symptoms?
Patients with superficial phlebitis may experience swelling, burning, itching, heat, tenderness, and redness along their inflamed veins. Phlebitis in the deeper veins can cause heavy pain and swelling throughout the limb containing the affected vessel, as well. In the most severe cases, patients may also suffer from a dangerously high fever, chest pain, and labored breathing.
How Is It Typically Diagnosed?
Most cases of phlebitis can be quickly diagnosed with a physical examination, but a noninvasive ultrasound might be needed to confirm the initial diagnosis, especially when treating larger veins in the upper leg. For narrower veins in the lower leg, a doctor or vein specialist might need to inject X-ray dye into the foot and track its upward progress through the veins in the leg.
Above all else, patients with phlebitis must ensure that the swelling hasn’t resulted in blood clots. A qualified professional can check for them with a D-dimer blood test, which measures any material released when a blood clot dissolves. If the results are negative, the patient should be free of clots.
While phlebitis can understandably cause some apprehension, treatments for it are simple and highly effective. As a preventative measure, your doctor or vein specialist might prescribe compression stockings, which stimulate blood flow in the legs and alleviate pain caused by superficial phlebitis. An active lifestyle will also promote circulation, lowering the likelihood of future occurrences.
While recovering from phlebitis, a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs and frequent elevation of the affected limb will reduce inflammation and encourage the flow of blood, preventing the condition from progressing and restoring normal function. If the inflammation is caused by an infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics, as well. In addition, patients with deep vein thrombophlebitis may need regular thrombolysis treatments to break down the blood clot, as well as a steady regimen of blood thinners for three to six months.
As daunting as phlebitis can be, it’s a highly treatable condition. If you’re concerned that you’re suffering from it, or worry that you might be susceptible to it, consult a vein specialist today to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.