Phlebitis and Thrombophlebitis

  • Medical Author:
    Siamak N. Nabili, MD, MPH

    Dr. Nabili received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), majoring in chemistry and biochemistry. He then completed his graduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His graduate training included a specialized fellowship in public health where his research focused on environmental health and health-care delivery and management.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Phlebitis facts

  • Phlebitis refers to inflammation of a vein and it can be caused by any insult to the blood vessel wall, impaired venous flow, or coagulation abnormality.
  • Pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness are some common symptoms of phlebitis.
  • Thrombophlebitis refers to the formation of a blood clot associated with phlebitis.
  • Thrombophlebitis can be superficial (skin level) or deep (in deeper veins).
  • Superficial phlebitis generally carries a favorable prognosis and can be treated with inexpensive home remedies.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can have serious complications and requires immediate treatment with blood thinners.
  • Simple measures can be taken to prevent phlebitis.

What is phlebitis and thrombophlebitis?

Phlebitis means inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis refers to a blood clot causing the inflammation. Phlebitis can be superficial, in the skin, or deep, in the tissues beneath the skin.

Superficial phlebitis is phlebitis that is in a superficial vein under the surface of the skin. Deep vein thrombophlebitis refers to a blood clot causing phlebitis in the deeper veins. Deep vein thrombophlebitis is also referred to as deep venous thrombophlebitis, deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The presence of superficial phlebitis does not necessary suggest an underlying DVT. Upper extremity (upper limbs) and lower extremities (lower limbs) superficial thrombosis or phlebitis are typically benign conditions and have a favorable prognosis. A blood clot (thrombus) in the saphenous vein may be an exception. This is the large, long vein on the inner side of the legs. Thrombophlebitis in the saphenous vein can sometimes be associated with underlying deep vein thrombophlebitis.

On the other hand, deep vein thrombosis of the upper and lower extremities can be a more serious problem that can lead to a blood clot traveling to the blood vessels of the lungs and resulting in pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism can injure lung tissue is serious and occasionally fatal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2015

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