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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
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy or some types of birth control medicine in women

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.

How can I manage my symptoms and prevent STP?

STP can increase your risk for a blood clot in deeper veins in your arms or legs. It can also increase your risk for a blood clot in your lungs. Do the following to decrease your risk for more blood clots and manage your symptoms:

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stay active. Activity helps prevent blood clots. Do not sit for more than an hour. If you travel by car or work at a desk, move and stretch in your seat several times each hour. In an airplane, get up and walk every hour. Exercise your legs while you are 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. Also tighten and release your leg muscles while you are sitting.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help increase your blood flow and prevent a blood clot. Walking is a good low-impact exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Do not inject illegal drugs. Talk to your healthcare provider if you use IV drugs and need help to quit.

Call 911 for any of the following:

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

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your leg or arm turns pale or blue.
  • Your leg or arm feels hot or cold.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms return after treatment.
  • 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 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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Superficial Thrombophlebitis

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