When to Seek Medical Care
Call your health care provider if you have signs and symptoms of swelling, pain, and inflamed superficial veins on the arms or legs. If you are not better in a week or two, get reevaluated to make sure you don't have a more serious condition.
Deep vein thrombophlebitis requires immediate medical care. If you have any of these signs and symptoms, go to a hospital emergency department for evaluation:
- High fever with any symptoms in an arm or leg
- Lumps in a leg
- Severe pain and swelling in an arm or leg
- New, unexplained significant shortness of breath, which could be the first tip-off that a blood clot has already traveled to your lung
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms. Although blood tests do not help diagnose phlebitis, they may help identify a blood-clotting disorder.
Ultrasound can detect clots or blockage of blood flow, especially in larger, more proximal (upper leg) veins. A small hand-held instrument (probe) is pressed against your skin to help identify blood clots and where the obstruction is. This is a painless, noninvasive test.
Occasionally a venogram is needed to identify blood clots in the smaller, more distal veins. This is an invasive procedure that requires injecting x-ray dye or contrast material into a vein on the foot, then an x-ray is taken of the flow of the dye up the leg.
Phlebitis Treatment Self-Care at Home
- An anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help lessen the pain and inflammation.
- If you increase your walking, you increase blood flow. This helps prevent blood clots from developing.
- Prescription leg compression stockings (knee or thigh high) improve your blood flow and may help to relieve your pain and swelling.
- Avoid bed rest for prolonged periods. It can make your symptoms worse.
- If you have deep vein thrombophlebitis, you will probably need to stay in the hospital for a few days for diagnosis and treatment to ensure that no complications occur.
- If your evaluation shows superficial phlebitis and you are otherwise healthy, you can go home. You will need to use compression stockings and anti-inflammatory medications to control your symptoms. Additional management involves elevation of the arm/leg and application of warm compresses. Only a few cases require antibiotics.
- If you have a history of deep vein thrombophlebitis, or if the phlebitis might possibly spread to the deep veins, you will need to take a blood thinner (anticoagulant). The duration of anticoagulant treatment is usually between 3-6 months.
- If you have signs of infection, you will need to take an antibiotic.
- If the phlebitis has progressed to involve the deep veins, then it is a serious condition that often requires hospital admission for treatment and further evaluation.