Inflammation of a superficial vein (a vein just beneath the surface of the skin) that may cause a blood clot to form
- More common over the age of 20
- More common in females
- Sometimes runs in families
- Intravenous drug abuse is a risk factor
In superficial thrombophlebitis, a blood clot develops in an inflamed superficial vein. The condition is rarely serious, but it may be painful. Thrombophlebitis can affect any superficial vein but usually occurs in varicose veins in the leg. Superficial thrombophlebitis tends to run in families and is more common in adult women.
Inflammation leading to clot formation may result from damage to a vein, which may be sustained during intravenous drug injection or surgery. The development of blood clots in superficial veins is more common in people who have cancer. In some cases, superficial thrombophlebitis is associated with an increase in the tendency of blood to clot (see Hypercoagulability). For example, blood may clot more easily in women who are pregnant or who take a combined oral contraceptive (see Contraception). or hormone replacement therapy. In most cases, however, the cause is unclear.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms associated with superficial thrombophlebitis usually develop over 24–48 hours and include:
Redness of the skin overlying a vein.
A painful, tender, swollen vein that may feel hard like a cord.
Inflammation is usually localized in the area of the blood clot and may spread to the overlying skin. However, in rare cases, thrombophlebitis extends into a deep-lying vein, usually in the leg, leading to deep vein thrombosis.
What might be done?
Your doctor will probably be able to diagnose superficial thrombophlebitis from your symptoms and the appearance of the vein and the overlying skin.
Most cases improve in a few days without treatment. You may be able to relieve pain by taking a painkiller, such as ibuprofen (see Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and by keeping the area rested and raised. Warm, moist compresses can also ease discomfort. If the condition is due to hypercoagulability or has resulted in a deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may recommend that you take drugs that prevent blood clotting. Superficial thrombophlebitis is likely to recur in susceptible people.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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