Superficial Thrombophlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis is an inflammation of a vein located just below the surface of the skin, thus creating a thrombus or blood clot. A common disorder, most superficial thrombosis is accompanied by phlebitis. With deep venous thrombosis, phlebitis may be present although asymptomatic.

Typically, superficial thrombophlebitis occurs in the arms or legs but can develop about anywhere on the body. This use of catheters injected into a vein can commonly cause a blood clot in a superficial vein.

What Are the Symptoms of Superficial Thrombophlebitis?

Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis include:

  • Swelling and redness of the skin along a part of a vein
  • Tenderness around the area of the inflammation
  • High fever
  • Vein may feel hard where superficial blood clot is located
  • Development of darkening of skin over affected vein
  • Pain that grows worse with pressure

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment to see your doctor if any of these symptoms appear.

  • If you have already been diagnosed with superficial thrombophlebitis and your symptoms do not better with treatment or worsen
  • Call your doctor immediately if you develop symptoms such as fever, chills or a limb becomes swollen, pale or cold.

What Are the Causes of Superficial Thrombophlebitis?

There are several factors that can increase the risk of an individual developing superficial thrombophlebitis. The more common of these include:

  • Recent insertion of IV, injection or catheter into a vein
  • Sitting or lying down for a prolonged period of time
  • Pregnancy
  • Infection
  • Disorder that increases the odds of a blood clot
  • Smoking
  • Use of birth control pills or hormone replacement medications
  • Being over the age of 60
  • Varicose veins
  • Chemical irritation of the area, such as from cancer treatments

Superficial thrombophlebitis may also be associated with more serious medical conditions, including:

  • Abdominal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Blood clotting disorders, such as Factor V Leiden or Prothrombin Gene Mutation
  • Blockage of blood vessels in hands and feet, known as Thromboangiitis Obliterans

Two rare disorders also associated with the development of superficial thrombophlebitis are Antithrombin III (AT-III) and Protein C and Protein S deficiencies.

What Are the Treatments for Superficial Thrombophlebitis?

Most of the time, superficial thrombophlebitis is treated at home. To reduce swelling, your doctor may recommend applying a warm compress to the area. It also helps to elevate the affected area if possible. Some individuals have found that wearing support socks also assists in reducing swelling.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce inflammation and help with redness and irritation. Painkillers may be prescribed if needed. In the event of deep vein thrombosis, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulants to thin your blood. If you have an infection, you may need to take antibiotics.

If you have varicose veins or need treatment to prevent further development of new thrombophlebitis, stripping of the affected vein may be necessary. However, this is reserved for serious instances and is very rarely administered.

Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes can go far in preventing episodes of superficial thrombophlebitis. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Wear pressure stockings to help promote blood flow.
  • Apply heat to affected area for 20 minutes several times a day to improve blood flow and decrease pain.
  • Exercise can decrease inflammation and improve blood flow.
  • Walk around for 5 minutes for each hour you spend standing or sitting to prevent blood from pooling in your legs.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Use pillows to elevate your leg or arm as often as you can, preferably higher than your heart.
  • If you are overweight, shed the extra pounds.


It is important to note that superficial thrombophlebitis is rarely a long-term condition. Symptoms usually subside in 1 to 2 weeks, causing no complications. If a hard lump developed because of the condition, it may remain for a longer period of time but is usually not a cause for concern.

Also keep in mind that individuals with varicose veins tend to suffer from recurrent episodes of superficial thrombophlebitis. For a very small group of people, this may be the first symptom of a more serious illness such as cancer. In these cases, the episodes of occurrence tend to affect different veins in different locations.

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