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What Is Thrombophlebitis and How Is It Treated?

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Thrombophlebitis, or inflammation due to a blood clot, can be painful and debilitating. Here’s how patients can get relief.

Blood clots can form anywhere in the body, posing a threat to your health and, in some cases, your life. They most often appear in the veins of the legs, likely due to injury, inactivity, or an underlying condition.

The medical term for blood clots that cause pain and swelling is called thrombophlebitis. Superficial thrombophlebitis refers to an inflamed vein close to the outer layer of skin. As such, its signs include redness, swelling, tenderness, pain, and a feeling of warmth along the affected vein. People who have varicose veins in their legs are more prone to superficial thrombophlebitis.

When thrombophlebitis arises in a vein located deeper within the leg, the blood clot is termed deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Similar to superficial thrombophlebitis, the irritated vein causes pain and swelling. If not treated promptly, the clot could travel to the lungs and result in a pulmonary embolism.

Thrombophlebitis: The Causes

Varicose veins are one important risk factor for thrombophlebitis. Others include repeated intravenous injections, pregnancy, or being confined to bed after surgery. Likewise, staying seated for extended periods of time in a car or plane can increase the chance of thrombophlebitis. An injury or surgery can result in blood clots as well.

A predisposition for blood clots tends to run in families, although even without a family history, some people are born with a blood-clotting disorder. Being overweight applies added pressure on the valves in the legs that carry blood back to the heart. This stresses the veins, which consequently may give rise to varicose veins and thrombophlebitis.

Thrombophlebitis: Treatment Options

To diagnose thrombophlebitis, a vein specialist will do a physical examination as well as an ultrasound to obtain an image of the painful vein. The ultrasound can distinguish between superficial thrombophlebitis and DVT.

A blood test to detect whether a clot-busting chemical in the body called D dimer is above the normal range may also be administered. However, an elevated level of D dimer is prevalent among other conditions, so more testing is often needed. At the very least, this blood test could identify people who have a higher risk for thrombophlebitis, as well as eliminate a diagnosis of DVT.

Once diagnosed, therapy depends on the type of thrombophlebitis. Superficial thrombophlebitis can generally be treated at-home with heat, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or antibiotics to fight infections. Elevating the legs also eases symptoms and can reverse the condition.

For both types of thrombophlebitis, blood thinners or medications to break up clots may be prescribed. If a patient cannot take blood thinners, a vein specialist can temporarily insert a filter into the main abdominal vein (vena cava) to block clots in the limbs from moving to the lungs.

Wearing tightly fitted compression stockings helps circulate blood in the veins, keeping them free of clots and alleviating the symptoms of inflammation. To reduce the risk of thrombophlebitis, anyone suffering from varicose veins should have their veins treated with sclerotherapy, endovenous ablation, or another procedure to lessen the chance of developing blood clots.

Dr. Tif Siragusa of Siragusa Vein and Laser in Nashville is an expert in several treatment options for varicose veins, thrombophlebitis, and other venous disorders. Contact the office today for a vein screening to discuss the best method to meet your individual needs. Don’t delay in treating venous disease and helping prevent dangerous blood clots.

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