Thrombophlebitis is the inflammation of one or more veins due to the formation of a blood clot. This article provides information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment measures for this medical condition.
The term ‘thrombophlebitis’ is derived from ‘thrombus’ and ‘phlebitis’. While thrombus refers to a blood clot, phlebitis refers to the inflammation of a vein. This condition is characterized by the inflammation of a vein due to the presence of a blood clot. These clots usually affect the veins in legs, but can also affect the veins in the arms and neck. It is classified into Superficial Vein Thrombosis (SVT) and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). The former is characterized by clots that form in the veins near the skin. These clots are not harmful, but they do cause pain. The clots break gradually as they flow with the blood, and might indicate the presence of DVT in some other part of the body. DVT is characterized by the formation of clots in the large veins that are located deep within the muscles of the lower leg or the thighs. DVT is harmful, and it may cause damage to the affected vein.
The formation of blood clots is the main reason behind the inflammation of the vein. Given below is the list of risk factors that may lead to blood clot formation.
- An injury to the vein
- Use of birth control pills
- Surgery, after which the patient might be required to take bed rest for a long period.
- Diabetes (type 2)
- Sitting in the same position for a very long time
- Deficiency in the blood, which prevents the normal dissolution of the clot (like deficiency of vitamin B-12)
The symptoms depend on the type of thrombophlebitis. Given below is the list of common symptoms of SVT and DVT.
- Skin color of the affected part becomes red.
- Pain and swelling in the affected region
- Burning sensation, tenderness, and warmth
Specific Symptoms of SVT
- Hard, inflamed veins below the skin that are visible to the naked eye
Embolism is blockage of blood vessel. In DVT, the blood clot may travel to other parts of the body (like heart, lungs, etc.) and cause embolism in them. Thus, a person suffering from DVT may show the following symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Physical examination and medical history are part of the first stage of diagnosis. The physician may perform the following tests to confirm its diagnosis.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): It gives a 3-dimensional image of the affected area and reveals the presence of the clot. An MRI scan is usually not preferred due to its high cost.
Venography: During this procedure, a dye-like substance is injected into a vein in the affected area before taking an X-ray. This helps to know the shape of the vein and helps detect the presence of a blood clot.
Ultrasound: During this imaging test, high-frequency sound waves are passed through the affected area, which gives an image on the screen, verifying the presence of a blood clot.
Blood Test: Blood tests are conducted to check the deficiency of any clot-dissolving element in the blood. However, one cannot solely rely on the tests for diagnosis, as the deficiency might occur due to other reasons.
The treatment for thrombophlebitis depends on the type and the region where the phlebitis is present. SVT clots can be cured by treating the affected area externally. DVT needs to be treated immediately to lower the risk of embolism. The treatment for SVT is aimed at reducing the symptoms and avoiding the chances of DVT. Anticoagulants help in preventing the enlargement of the clots. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), antibiotics (in case of infection) and painkillers might also be prescribed. Bandaging and elevating the affected area can sometimes prove useful in the treatment of SVT. The use of clot busters that help in dissolving the blood clots might also be recommended. While support stockings might be used to reduce the discomfort, doctors usually recommend the surgical removal of the blood clot or the affected vein in severe cases.
To prevent this condition, avoid sitting in one position for a long time, and do not wear tight clothes below waist. Following an exercise regimen will promote blood circulation, thereby lowering the risk of this condition.