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5/11/2019 10:33:49 AM

What is phlebitis?

Phlebitis — a swollen or inflamed vein — is a fairly common condition that can range from mild to deadly, depending on its location and cause. 

What Is Phlebitis?

The simple definition of phlebitis is an inflamed or swollen vein. However, the condition is usually broken into more specific types of inflamed veins. No matter the type, phlebitis should always be evaluated by a health care professional, since people with one kind of the condition may develop more serious forms.

Types of phlebitis include:

Superficial phlebitis: Phlebitis affecting veins at the surface of the skin. These are usually not serious and get better quickly.

Deep phlebitis: Phlebitis affecting veins in a deeper, larger vein. This usually happens in the legs but can appear in the arms as well.

Superficial thrombophlebitis: A blood clot plus vein swelling in a vein near the skin’s surface. This may also be called a superficial blood clot.

Deep vein thrombophlebitis: A blood clot plus vein swelling in a deep vein, usually in the leg. Deep vein thrombophlebitis is the most serious type of phlebitis. If the blood clot breaks away from its location in the arm or leg and travels to the lungs, it can cause a deadly condition called pulmonary embolism.

Note: This is slightly different from deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a deep vein without swelling or inflammation of the blood vessel lining.

How long does it take to treat phlebitis? How long does phlebitis last?

In cases of superficial inflammation, phlebitis can often be treated at home after a brief evaluation by a physician. Treatment usually takes one to two weeks. However, if you have complications or more serious forms of this condition, recovery may take longer.

Signs & Symptoms

Phlebitis symptoms include:

A long, thin red area or “streaking” along the skin

Warm, hard or tender skin

A section of rope- or cord-like lumps you can feel under the skin

Redness or irritation that follows a vein

Itchy or swollen skin

Throbbing or burning at the site of red or tender skin

Lumps or a swollen spot on your skin

Worsening of symptoms when you get out of bed, flex the nearest joints, or have your leg lowered rather than elevated

Low-grade fever

Swelling, pain or skin irritation caused by infection

Usually, these symptoms develop slowly. However, some people may notice that they get these symptoms soon after they had a needle or IV in their arm.

Causes & Risk Factors

What is the main cause of phlebitis?

The technical cause of phlebitis is injury or irritation to a blood vessel’s lining.

In cases of superficial phlebitis, this irritation can be caused by:

Injury to the vein


Blood clots

Use of an IV or an injection of medicine into the vein

In cases of deep phlebitis, the irritation can be caused by:

Injury from trauma, surgery or injury

A prior case of deep phlebitis

Inactivity, especially during travel or bed rest

Blood clots

Risk factors for phlebitis and thrombophlebitis include:

Inactivity, travel or bed rest

Family or personal history of blood clots

Pregnancy or recent childbirth


Broken bones or injury to the pelvis, arms or legs

Recent surgery

A long-term catheter in a blood vessel

Cancer or blood disorders

Lupus and some other autoimmune conditions


Those taking certain drugs, such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy

Varicose veins

Conventional Treatment

Conventional phlebitis treatment typically involves anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. It may also involve the following treatments, depending on the cause of your phlebitis:

Blood-thinning medications such as aspirin, enoxaparin, and/or warfarin may be given to break down blood clots or make it easier for blood to flow through the veins

Antibiotics may be required for a skin infection

Warm compresses, leg or arm elevation, and compression stockings may be recommended to ease symptoms such as swelling and pain

Surgery may be done in severe or chronic cases

If you have a blood clot, you may need to stay at the hospital for a few days. People with superficial phlebitis can usually just have some assessments done (to check for blood clots) and then go home with treatment advice from the physician.

5 Natural approaches to help manage some phlebitis symptoms and mild cases at home after diagnosis and evaluation:

Elevate and soothe

Stay active

Try a compression stocking

Ask about herbs and supplements

Follow a diet that supports blood vessel health 

Note: Blood clots with phlebitis can be very serious and even life-threatening. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or self-treat phlebitis. Always let your physician know if you suspect you have this condition or if you plan to take herbs or supplements to treat your symptoms.

  ( Katherine Brind'Amour )
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