Thrombophlebitis (throm-boe-fluh-BY-tis) occurs when a blood clot blocks one or more of your veins, typically in your legs. Rarely, thrombophlebitis (sometimes called phlebitis) can affect veins in your arms or neck.
The affected vein may be near the surface of your skin, causing superficial thrombophlebitis, or deep within a muscle, causing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Thrombophlebitis can be caused by trauma, surgery or prolonged inactivity. Superficial thrombophlebitis may occur in people with varicose veins.
A clot in a deep vein increases your risk of serious health problems, including the possibility of a dislodged clot (embolus) traveling to your lungs and blocking an artery there (pulmonary embolism). Deep vein thrombosis is usually treated with blood-thinning medications. Superficial thrombophlebitis is sometimes treated with blood-thinning medications, too.
The cause of thrombophlebitis is a blood clot. Blood clots can be caused by many different things — namely anything that causes your blood not to circulate properly. It’s possible a blood clot that causes thrombophlebitis could be caused by:
- An injury to a vein
- An inherited blood-clotting disorder
- Being immobile for long periods of time, such as during a hospital stay
Superficial thrombophlebitis symptoms include:
- Warmth, tenderness and pain in the affected area
- Redness and swelling
Deep vein thrombosis symptoms include:
When a vein close to the surface of your skin is affected, you may see a red, hard and tender cord just under the surface of your skin. When a deep vein in the leg is affected, your leg may become swollen, tender and painful.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor right away if you have a red, swollen or tender vein — especially if you have one or more risk factors for thrombophlebitis. If you have leg swelling and pain along with shortness of breath or chest pain that hurts when you take a deep breath, go to an emergency room. These signs and symptoms may indicate deep vein thrombosis, which increases your risk of a dislodged blood clot traveling through your veins to your lungs.