Phlebitis – Symptoms, Treatment, Causes, Pictures

Phlebitis  is a condition characterized by inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis is a blood clot that results in the inflammation. Phlebitis can be shallow, or occur in the skin, or occur deeper within the tissues present under the skin.

Superficial or shallow phlebitis affects a shallow vein occurring below the skin’s surface. Deep vein thrombophlebitis points to a blood clot which causes phlebitis in the veins occurring deeper. The other names for deep vein thrombophlebitis are DVT or deep vein thrombosis, and deep venous thrombophlebitis.

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The occurrence of shallow phlebitis does not refer to a pre-existing case of DVT. Phlebitis of the upper and lower limbs is usually a non-malignant disorder, with a good prognosis. However, a blood clot affecting the saphenous vein, i.e. the long, big vein present on the inner area of the legs, may elicit malignancy. Thrombophlebitis affecting this particular vein can occasionally be related to a preexisting deep vein thrombophlebitis.

It may also be noted that deep vein thrombosis of the lower and upper extremities can be a far more severe condition, which can result in spreading of the blood clot to the blood vessels occurring in the lungs, leading to pulmonary embolism. This condition can in turn damage the lung tissue and sometimes result in deaths.

Symptoms of phlebitis

Some of the signs and symptoms of phlebitis are as follows:

  • Mild cases of phlebitis may or may not result in symptoms.
  • Redness, pain, swelling of the vein and tenderness are some symptoms that commonly accompany the condition
  • The tenderness and redness, i.e. erythema, may occur along the passage of the vein below the skin
  • Deep or superficial phlebitis may be accompanied by low grade or mild fever.
  • Fever with high temperatures as well as oozing of pus from the thrombophlebitis affected areas may indicate an infection of the condition, which is known as septic thrombophlebitis
  • Occurrence of visible chords along the vein’s course may signify the presence of superficial thrombophlebitis or a shallow clot
  • A DVT may result in swelling and redness of the affected limb along with other symptoms such as tenderness and pain. If a leg is affected, then it can lead to walking difficulties

Causes of phlebitis

Phlebitis can be caused due to a number of reasons. A few causes are listed below:

  • Localized injury or trauma of the vein
  • IV induced phlebitis, or phlebitis caused due to use of intravenous catheters
  • Inactivity for prolonged durations, like when on a plane ride or long drives
  • Post-operative period, i.e. the phase after a surgery, particularly pos orthopedic operations
  • Occurrence of varicose veins
  • Chronic immobility, as in the case of bed-ridden or hospitalized patients
  • Preexisting clotting diseases or cancers
  • Intravenous use of drugs
  • Interruption of the normal drainage system of the veins, due to elimination of lymph nodes. For example, post a mastectomy for cancer of the breasts.
  • Burn patients are at greater risk to developing phlebitis

Some of the risk factors that increase the vulnerability to developing phlebitis are mentioned below:

  • In a majority of the cases, any type of trauma can increase the risk to phlebitis. For example, an injury or a trauma to the leg or an arm can result in injury of the vein occurring below the skin, leading to inflammation of the vein and eventual phlebitis.
  • The use of birth control pills, pregnancy and hormone therapy can also increase the susceptibility to developing thrombophlebitis
  • Another common cause of phlebitis is chronic physical inactivity. The blood that is present on the veins of the lower limbs is usually pushed towards the heart via the contraction of the muscles occurring in the lower extremities. When such contraction of the muscles is restricted due to several hours of immobility, such as when sitting on a plane, then there may be stagnation of the blood present in the veins, leading to formation of clots eventually leading to thrombophlebitis.
  • Cigarette smoking can also result in increased vulnerability to phlebitis. When smoking is combined with the use of birth control pills, then the risk to thromboembolism is considerably increased.
  • Some types of cancers have been found to elevate the vulnerability to development of clots by causing anomalies in the usual coagulation system. A few kinds of cancers with hyperclotting state can result in thrombophlebitis or phlebitis
  • Another possible cause that elevates the risk of phlebitis is obesity

Phlebitis treatment

The treatment of phlebitis is carried out as per the severity, location, symptoms and preexisting medical disorders.

  • The treatment of superficial phlebitis of the lower and upper extremities involves elevation of the affected limb, application of warm compresses and physical therapy to promote walking
  • Oral and topical anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed to alleviate the inflammation
  • Fitted stocking that exert external pressure is suggested for patients of shallow phlebitis affecting the lower limbs
  • Phlebitis with secondary infections is treated with antibiotics. Seriously infected instances of thrombophlebitis may require surgical intervention
  • In case, phlebitis is caused due to use of an internal catheter, then its use should be immediately stopped and alternatives need to be found
  • DVT is treated with blood thinning techniques.

Phlebitis Pictures


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