Superficial Thrombophlebitis

What is superficial thrombophlebitis?

Superficial thrombophlebitis (STP) is inflammation of your superficial veins caused by a blood clot. The superficial veins are blood vessels just under the skin. This condition most often appears in the legs, but may also occur in the arms.

What causes STP?

STP may be caused by a blood clot in one or more veins. STP may also be caused by bacteria, a virus, or a fungus.

What increases my risk for STP?

  • Older age, especially if you are older than 60

  • Inactivity, such as when you sit or stand for several hours each day

  • A history of blood vessel problems, such as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

  • Procedures such as sclerotherapy or intravenous (IV) injections

  • Pregnancy or medical conditions, such as cancer or an immune system disease

  • Obesity or tobacco use

  • Certain medicines, such as birth control pills

What are the signs and symptoms of STP?

  • Red, swollen, tender skin over the veins

  • Thick veins seen just under the skin

  • Fever

How is STP diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your health history and examine you. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests: Your blood may be tested to show a blood clot.

  • Doppler ultrasound: A Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show blood clots.

How is STP treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Acetaminophen: This medicine decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Anticoagulants are a type of blood thinner medicine that helps prevent clots. Clots can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. These medicines may cause you to bleed or bruise more easily.

      • Watch for bleeding from your gums or nose. Watch for blood in your urine and bowel movements. Use a soft washcloth and a soft toothbrush. If you shave, use an electric razor. Avoid activities that can cause bruising or bleeding.

      • Tell your caregiver about all medicines you take because many medicines cannot be used with anticoagulants. Do not start or stop any medicines unless your caregiver tells you to. Tell your dentist and other caregivers that you take anticoagulants. Wear a bracelet or necklace that says you take this medicine.

      • You will need regular blood tests so your caregiver can decide how much medicine you need. Take anticoagulants exactly as directed. Tell your caregiver right away if you forget to take the medicine, or if you take too much.

      • If you take warfarin, some foods can change how your blood clots. Do not make major changes to your diet while you take warfarin. Warfarin works best when you eat about the same amount of vitamin K every day. Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, grapes, and other foods. Ask for more information about what to eat when you take warfarin.

  • Procedures: Your caregiver may inject a liquid to close the vein. The vein may be tied off to stop blood from flowing through it. Surgery to remove veins may also be done. Ask your caregiver for information about these procedures.

What are the risks of STP?

The blood clot may break off and travel to your lungs, heart, or brain. This can cause life-threatening problems, such as a pulmonary embolus (PE), heart attack, or stroke.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Pressure stockings: These are long, tight stockings that put pressure on your legs to promote blood flow and prevent clots.

  • Exercise: Walking will help improve blood flow and decrease inflammation. Do not stand or sit for long periods of time, because the blood will pool in your legs. Walk around 5 minutes for every hour that you sit or stand in one place. Ask your caregiver about the best exercise plan for you.

  • Heat: Heat helps decrease pain and improves blood flow. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.

  • Elevate: Raise your leg or arm above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your leg or arm on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask your caregiver how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

  • Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information about how to stop smoking if you need help.

Where can I find more information?

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address: http://www.aafp.org

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your symptoms return after treatment.

  • Your symptoms keep you from your daily activities.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your leg or arm turns pale or blue.

  • Your leg or arm becomes hot or cold.

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.

  • You cough up blood.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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