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Superficial Thrombophlebitis


What is superficial thrombophlebitis (STP)?

STP is inflammation of a vein just under your skin (superficial vein). The inflammation causes a blood clot to form in your vein. STP most often happens in your leg but may also happen in your arm.

What increases my risk for STP?

  • A condition that affects your blood vessels, such as varicose veins
  • A long-term IV catheter
  • Recent surgery
  • Multiple IV injections or IV drug abuse
  • Obesity, pregnancy, or cancer
  • Limited activity caused by bed rest, a leg cast, or sitting for long periods
  • A blood disorder that makes your blood clot faster than normal, such as factor V Leiden mutation
  • In women, hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills

What are the signs and symptoms of STP?

You may see a red line on your skin that covers the vein. You may also have swelling and pain near the vein. You may have a fever if infection has spread from your vein to others places in your body.

How is STP diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be done to check for infection and test how fast your blood clots.
  • Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to check for blood clots or damage to your vein.

How is STP treated?

  • Medicines may be given to treat an infection and decrease swelling and pain. Medicine may also be given to prevent more blood clots.
  • Removal of an IV catheter may be needed if your IV is infected.
  • Surgery may be needed to remove the blood clot or part of your vein. Surgery may also be needed to remove a collection of infected fluid from your vein.

What can I do to manage STP?

  • Apply a warm compress to your arm or leg. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Wet a washcloth in warm water. Do not use hot water. Apply the warm compress for 10 minutes. Repeat this 4 times each day.
  • Wear pressure stockings as directed. Pressure stockings improve blood flow and help prevent clots in your legs. Wear the stockings during the day. Do not wear them when you sleep.
    Pressure Stockings
  • Elevate 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.
    Elevate Leg

What can I do to prevent STP?

  • Maintain a healthy weight. This will help decrease your risk for another blood clot. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can damage blood vessels and increase your risk for blood clots. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Change your body position or move around often. Move and stretch in your seat several times each hour if you travel by car or work at a desk. In an airplane, get up and walk every hour. Move your legs by tightening and releasing your leg muscles while sitting. You can move your legs while sitting by raising and lowering your heels. Keep your toes on the floor while you do this. You can also raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
    DVT Prevention Heel Raise
    DVT Prevention Toe Raise
  • Exercise regularly to help increase your blood flow. Walking is a good low-impact exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
    Walking for Exercise
  • Do not inject illegal drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider if you use IV drugs and need help to quit.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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