Superficial Thrombophlebitis

What is superficial thrombophlebitis?

Superficial thrombophlebitis (ST or SVT) is swelling and irritation of a vein near the surface of your body caused by a blood clot.

What is the cause?

A clot may form in a vein because blood flow in the vein slows down or stops. This may happen after:

  • Injury to the vein, such as a bruise
  • An IV (medicine or fluid given through a vein)

Often a clot develops in varicose veins, usually in the leg or arm. Varicose veins are enlarged veins close to the surface of the skin.

Things that increase your risk for blood clots also increase your risk for ST. For example:

  • Blood clotting disorders that you are born with, such as sickle cell disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Infections
  • Obesity (having too much body fat)
  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • A tender cordlike vein that is very sensitive to touch or pressure
  • Redness, warmth, and swelling in the area around the vein

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have an ultrasound or X-ray to check for clots in deeper veins, which are more serious than problems with the veins near the surface of your skin. Often, no tests are needed.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you:

  • Take an anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Put warm, moist compresses on the inflamed area. Be careful to avoid burns. If you are using a heating pad, do not lie on it.
  • Wear compression stockings to help keep the blood flowing normally through the legs.
  • Keep your legs up on a chair or pillows when you sit or lie down.

Your provider may prescribe a blood thinner medicine, especially if you are at increased risk for developing a blood clot in a deep vein.

Unless you have a lot of pain, your healthcare provider may tell you stay active to avoid the superficial clot becoming a deep clot, which is a much more serious problem.

With proper treatment, ST usually lasts 1 to 2 weeks.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

If you have varicose veins, ask your healthcare provider if you should wear special support stockings. Ask what type of stockings you may need, when you should start using them, and how often you should wear them.

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-03
Last reviewed: 2014-09-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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