Phlebitis: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention


Phlebitis is a circulatory condition involving inflammation of the veins, which can have several causes. Superficial phlebitis is normally a relatively minor problem as it only affects the veins on the surface of the skin and is quickly and easily treated. However, it can be an indicator of more serious problems including deep vein phlebitis (also known as thrombophlebitis). Deep vein phlebitis is caused by a blood clot in a vein which creates the characteristic swelling. Because this occurs in the larger, deeper placed blood vessels (usually in the leg) it is potentially more dangerous as there is a risk of a clot breaking off and reaching the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.


As with many circulatory conditions, the cause of phlebitis may be an isolated condition or a result of other medical procedures, especially surgery. Other exacerbating factors include long periods without movement, smoking, obesity, pregnancy, birth control pills, injury or other related conditions such as varicose veins.


Both types of phlebitis display similar symptoms, primarily redness, swelling, sensations of burning or tenderness and sometimes fever. However, deep vein phlebitis may not exhibit any immediate symptoms or, conversely, an entire limb may appear to be affected, in contrast to the more localised symptoms of superficial phlebitis. Physical examination, ultrasound and blood tests may all be used in the diagnosis of these conditions.


Exercise is key in both preventing and treating phlebitis as it helps to improve blood flow through the affected limbs. Ibuprofen or similar inflammatories may be prescribed if the patient is suffering with swelling and/or associated discomfort. Compression stockings are a useful tool in easing the symptoms of phlebitis in the legs and usually knee or thigh high models will be recommended. They should be worn as often as possible and will help to improve circulation, as well as relieving pain and inflammation in some instances.