Learn to recognize the signs of superficial thrombophlebitis, and how you can prevent painful blood clots.
The name “superficial thrombophlebitis” is a mouthful, but it actually tells you everything you need to know about the condition. “Superficial” means that the condition affects veins that are close to the surface of the skin. “Thrombo” means that it is caused by a blood clot blocking one of those veins. “Phlebitis” means that the vein has become irritated or inflamed.
Superficial thrombophlebitis usually occurs in the legs, but it can affect the arms and neck as well. It also tends to affect women at a slightly higher rate than men. Patients with superficial thrombophlebitis often complain of skin redness and inflammation along the course of a vein (sometimes called a “cord”). The condition also causes warmth, tenderness and pain in the affected area that gets worse with added pressure. As the disease progresses, the veins can begin to harden and the skin overlying the vessel may become discolored.
What Causes Superficial Thrombophlebitis?
The most common immediate cause of the condition is an IV or catheter injection into the vein — the needle can cause damage to the vessel, which results in a blood clot and eventually full-on thrombophlebitis. This risk is further heightened if the patient is pregnant, has been immobile for a long period or has varicose veins, since each of those conditions independently raises the probability of blood clots. Smoking, obesity and some types of oral contraceptives also raise this risk.
Sometimes, superficial thrombophlebitis can be an indication of a more serious condition, such as deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the deeper veins that might end up traveling to the heart or lungs) or abdominal cancers, especially pancreatic cancer.
Treatment and Prevention
In order to diagnose superficial thrombophlebitis, your doctor will perform a full physical examination, which includes taking your pulse and blood pressure. Then they will typically use an ultrasound machine to visually identify the blood clot.
Once superficial thrombophlebitis has been confirmed, most doctors recommend taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (like Advil) for the pain and using warm compresses to help reduce the swelling. If the blood clot is larger or more serious, blood-thinning medication might be required.
Since IVs are a common cause of superficial thrombophlebitis, they should be removed at the first sign of inflammation. Patients, particularly those at heightened risk of developing the condition, should be sure to stay hydrated and mobile while taking long car or plane trips. A low dose of aspirin may also be useful to help prevent the condition.
For people who suffer from varicose veins, it’s especially important to wear support stockings. When damaged veins have trouble pumping blood back up to the heart, compression stockings keep the blood from pooling. This helps prevent blood clots, which in turn lowers the risk of developing superficial thrombophlebitis.
If you think you may be suffering from superficial thrombophlebitis or uncomfortable varicose veins, make an appointment with a vein specialist as soon as possible. Schedule a consultation at the Center for Vein Restoration today to learn more about your treatment options.