The term phlebitis refers to an inflammation of a vein, usually in the leg, frequently accompanied by blood clots that adhere to the wall of the vein. When the affected vein is close to the surface, the condition is called superficial phlebitis. This condition usually resolves on its own without further complications. However, when phlebitis occurs in a deep vein, it is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a life-threatening condition because a clot could dislodge from the vein and lodge in the lungs. If a swollen, painful vein does not disappear within 2 weeks, consult a physician.
Symptoms of superficial phlebitis include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth around the affected vein. The vein feels hard to the touch because of the clotted blood.
Deep vein thrombosis is more difficult to diagnose. It can occur without any symptoms until the clot reaches the lungs. However, in about half of cases, there are warning symptoms including swelling, pain and warmth in the entire calf, ankle, foot, or thigh (depending on where the involved vein is located). Although these symptoms can also be caused by more benign conditions, deep vein thrombosis is such a life-threatening disorder that physician consultation is necessary.
Risk factors for any type of phlebitis include recent surgery or childbirth, varicose veins, inactivity, sitting for long periods (such as on a long airplane ride), and smoking. Prolonged placement of intravenous catheters can also cause phlebitis, possibly requiring antibiotic treatment. The use of progestins (synthetic progesterones, but not natural progesterone) will increase the likelihood of deep vein thrombophlebitis by 3 to 4 times.
Conventional treatments for superficial phlebitis include analgesics for pain, warm compresses, and compression bandages or stockings to increase blood flow. In more severe cases, anticoagulants or minor surgery may be required. Superficial phlebitis inflammation generally is reduced within 7-10 days, but it may be 3-6 weeks for the problem to be entirely gone.
Deep vein thrombosis requires more aggressive treatment, including hospitalization, strong anticoagulants, and a variety of possible surgical procedures.
Note: Because deep vein phlebitis is a potentially life-threatening disorder, you should seek a doctor's advice before attempting any natural treatments.