Superficial Thrombophlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis is a form of venous disease (disease of the veins) that occurs when a blood clot forms that partially or totally blocks blood flow in a vein in the superficial venous system. When this occurs in the deep venous system, it is called deep vein thrombosis or DVT,  which is  more serious because of the risk of a piece of clot breaking loose and traveling to the lungs (called pulmonary embolus, or PE). This can impair breathing and can even cause death.

Symptoms of Superficial Venous Thrombophlebitis and Deep Venous Thrombophlebitis

Signs and symptoms of superficial venous thrombophlebitis are:

  • A hard cord-like feeling along a vein
  • Soreness over this area, redness and warmth over the vein
  • Swelling in the area
  • Limb pain

People with deep venous thrombophlebitis (DVT) may have:

  • No signs or symptoms
  • Sudden swelling of the limb
  • Pain or aching of the limb
  • Fever
  • Skin discoloration in severe cases

Learn more about Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

Risk Factors for Superficial Thrombophlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis may occur after injury to the vein or the recent use of an intravenous (IV) line or catheter. Some people with a high risk for this condition may develop it in lieu of any of these risk factors:

  • Chemical irritation of the area
  • Disorders that involve increased blood clotting
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Sitting or staying still for a prolonged period
  • Use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
  • Varicose veins
  • Malignancy
  • Chronic venous insufficiency

Diagnosis of superficial thrombophlebitis may be made based on appearance of the affected area. Other tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis, including:

  • Ultrasound
  • Venography
  • Blood culture, if there is a sign of infection

Treatments for Superficial Thrombophlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis is treated with elevation of the leg, anti-inflammatory medicines such as Motrin, mild pain relievers if needed and warm, moist soaks to the area either continuously or every 4-6 hours as needed. Elastic bandages or compression stockings are also used from the base of the toes to below the knee or higher. A short course of  low-molecular weight heparin (LMWH), Lovenox or Fondaparinux may also be prescribed. Antibiotics are used if there is sign of infection. Additionally, certain patients may benefit from surgical correction of superficial venous insufficiency.

The Venous Health Program at the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center

The Venous Health Program at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center is an all-inclusive resource for the treatment of venous disease. This program brings together established and experienced vascular surgeons, vascular medicine specialists, interventional radiologists and nurse practitioners to provide seamless multidisciplinary care.

Patient Resources

Make an Appointment

To make an appointment to discuss your need for cardiovascular treatment, call the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center toll-free at 888-287-1082 or email us at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu. Visit our Make an Appointment page for more information about what to expect when you call us.