Phlebitis means inflammation in a vein. Commonly, phlebitis is accompanied by thrombus, or blood clot within the vein a.ka. thrombophlebitis. If you suffer with varicose veins, you may have had phlebitis in the past and not realized it. Varicose Veins may thrombose, or clot and cause phlebitis. If you have phlebitis you may notice a red or pink discoloration in the skin overlying the inflamed vein. The area of phlebitis may be tender and feel warm to the touch. The vein with phlebitis may feel firm or rope like. Sometimes the clot within the vein harbors infection and there may be severe pain and high fever associated with the phlebitis. Acute phlebitis can be triggered by trauma or a prolonged period of sitting such as long airline or car travel. The blood that pools and stagnates in varicose veins puts abnormal pressure which contributes to phlebitis. Chronic, recurrent phlebitis may occur if you suffer from varicose veins and venous insufficiency.
The treatment of phlebitis emphasizes reduction of inflammation while limiting the progression of the process. Venous compression stockings will help reduce pressure caused by stagnating blood from varicose veins. Leg elevation while at rest will also help to reduce pressure within the leg veins. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. It is wise, especially for those with varicose veins who present with phlebitis, to check for venous insufficiency with a careful ultrasound examination. Left untreated, venous insufficiency may lead to recurrent episodes of phlebitis. If the venous insufficiency condition is found, it is treatable with minimally invasive techniques (See the link for the procedure).
The symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and phlebitis may be quite similar. Phlebitis with a thrombus (blood clot) in a superficial skin vein is treated differently than a Deep Vein Thrombosis. A DVT is a blood clot within a deep vein of the leg, inside the muscle. DVT is a more serious condition and must be treated with blood thinner like Coumadin. A venous ultrasound or other imaging modality is required to confirm the diagnosis of DVT. When DVT is present, there is a risk that the clot may travel to the lungs and cause a potentially fatal Pulmonary Embolism.
The patient with a suspected phlebitis should be evaluated by ultrasound to ensure that DVT is not present, also to evaluate for venous insufficiency which may contribute to both conditions.
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