Phlebitis is a medical term for inflammation of a vein. This condition typically occurs in veins found just beneath the skin’s surface rather than in the deeper veins of the body such as the femoral artery of the groin and thigh.
However, left untreated, phlebitis poses an increased risk of developing blood clots in deeper veins, contributing to the development of a serious blood clot known as a deep vein thrombosis and its associated risks.
One of the primary risks of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is that a portion of - or the entire clot - breaking free of the blood vessel wall and traveling through the body to the lungs, where it lodges in a pulmonary artery and blocks blood flow back to the heart. The situation can be life-threatening.
How does phlebitis occur?
Phlebitis typically occurs when venous circulation is sluggish or slower than it should be. A number of factors can increase likeness of decreased blood flow, especially in the lower extremities, such as varicose veins, dehydration, obesity, and long periods of inactivity.
Phlebitis can also occur in individuals whose blood has a tendency to clot, often caused by circulatory issues. In some cases, phlebitis occurs following an injury to a vein, especially in those who have poor circulation. Even a minor injury to a varicose vein can eventually develop into phlebitis.
In some cases, intravenous catheters left in veins for extended periods of time, or even illicit intravenous drug use can also damage veins and initiate inflammation. Watch for signs or symptoms of phlebitis but resist the urge to self-diagnose or self-treat. The condition is serious, and medical attention and treatments are recommended.
Signs and symptoms of phlebitis
Diagnosis of inadequate blood flow and indications of phlebitis can generally be determined during an external physical examination. An ultrasound may be recommended to determine if phlebitis has spread into deeper veins or has formed a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot, which can occur in about 30% of phlebitis cases.
Phlebitis spreading to deeper veins typically affects two primary leg veins - the greater and lesser saphenous veins. The greater saphenous veins descends down the upper and inside of the thigh while the lesser saphenous veins descends from the lower thigh into the lower leg. In such cases, treatment includes application of warm compresses, suggestions for anti-inflammatory drugs, and compression stockings.
In the event that phlebitis has caused a deep vein thrombosis, hospitalization is often recommended along with anti-blood clot or blood thinner medications and monitoring.
Following diagnosis of phlebitis or contributing blood clot development in larger blood vessels, regular checkups are recommended. If you’ve been diagnosed with phlebitis or are concerned that you may be experiencing the signs or symptoms of the condition, schedule a visit with your doctor.