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5 Essential Facts About Phlebitis


In this 5 minute-read, I will give you 5 essential facts about Phlebitis to help inform you when you make your decision about whether to have specialist treatment. I will cover What it is, what it looks like, what causes it, when it is a problem and how it can be treated.

What is it?

Phlebitis or superficial vein thrombosis is an inflamed superficial vein containing clot. Phlebitis can only be reliably diagnosed by an ultrasound scan.

what does varicose phlebitis look likeWhat does it look like?

The skin overlying the tender lumpy hard vein is red. The affected vein is usually on the lower inner thigh or calf.

What causes phlebitis?

Varicose veins are prone to clot formation because the flow within the vein is sluggish and the valves are often roughened and floppy. The clot then causes an inflammation within the vein and the clot can spread.  Phlebitis is not caused by an infection and antibiotics are not necessary.

There are other causes of phlebitis which need to be considered.

You are more at risk of superficial thrombophlebitis if you:

  • have varicose veins
  • smoke
  • are very overweight
  • take the contraceptive pill or HRT (although these only slightly increase your risk of blood clots)
  • are pregnant
  • have had a previous blood clot or another problem with the vein
  • have recently had injections or a drip put into the vein
  • have a condition that causes the blood to clot more easily, such as thrombophilia, inflammation of the smaller arteries (polyarteritis) or a high concentration of red blood cells in your blood (polycythaemia)
  • have cancer

Is phlebitis dangerous?

Phlebitis in varicose veins often recurs and people with varicose veins and phlebitis should have treatment to deal with their varicose veins. Phlebitis can lead to a DVT if the clot in the superficial veins spreads into the deep veins. Phlebitis in the absence of any varicose veins is a particularly serious condition. Some people with this condition have an unsuspected malignancy and so careful screening is needed to ensure they have cancer treatment as soon as possible.

How can phlebitis be treated?

In the short term, you can manage the problem yourself by keeping active and elevating the affected leg. Under the advice of a healthcare professional, and in the absence of other health conditions such as diabetes or artery disease, good quality medical-grade compression socks should be worn during the day and the skin should be moisturised after taking the sock off before going to bed. Many people find relief by applying a cold flannel over the vein to ease any pain. If you don’t have allergies, take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen or rub an anti-inflammatory cream or gel on the area if the affected area is only small. Ask a pharmacist if you are unsure.

For a longer-lasting solution if you have phlebitis affecting a varicose vein,  a vein scan and the advice of a vein specialist should be sought. Vein treatments for varicose veins and phlebitis can be carried out safely under local anaesthetic as a walk in, walk out non-invasive procedure.

If you would like more information about phlebitis, please get in contact and one of our advisors will be happy to help you.