Thrombophlebitis is a swelling of a vein caused by a clot. It usually occurs in the leg, though it may rarely occur in the arm or neck. When the affected vein is near the surface of the skin, the condition is called superficial thrombophlebitis. When it occurs deep within a muscle, it is known as deep vein thrombosis and is much more dangerous. Thrombophlebitis may develop as a result of prolonged inactivity, such as a lengthy period of bed rest or extended travel in a car or plane. The risk for thrombophlebitis is diminished by limiting periods spent sitting or standing in one place.

Risks Factors for Thrombophlebitis

In addition to extended periods of inactivity, other risk factors for thrombophlebitis include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy
  • Use of birth control medication
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Certain cancers

Symptoms of Thrombophlebitis

Patients with thrombophlebitis often experience pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected area, which may appear as a hardened, red area under the surface of the skin. Symptoms are most noticeable while standing or walking, although some patients may not experience any symptoms at all. Despite a lack a symptoms, patients with deep vein thrombosis may eventually develop serious complications.

Diagnosis of Thrombophlebitis

In order to diagnose thrombophlebitis, blood tests will be administered. Blood tests can detect elevated levels of D-dimer, a clot-dissolving substance found in the blood which may indicate the presence of a clot. The doctor will likely prescribe imaging exams as well. These may include an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI scan to detect blood clots within certain veins.

Treatment of Thrombophlebitis

Many cases of thrombophlebitis can be treated using simple home remedies such as applied heat, elevation of the affected leg, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. More severe cases, particularly those that progress to deep vein thrombosis, may require blood-thinning medications, compression stockings, thrombolytic therapy or one of several surgical procedures to remove the clot and avoid permanent damage.

Complications of Thrombophlebitis

Serious complications of thrombophlebitis arise when the clot breaks off and travels through the circulatory system. This is called an embolism. When the clot travels to the lungs, it results in a pulmonary embolism. When it travels to the heart, it causes a heart attack. When the clot makes its way to the brain, it results in a stroke.

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