Skip to content
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Understanding Thrombophlebitis -- the Basics

    What Is Thrombophlebitis?

    Thrombophlebitis occurs mostly in the legs. It's a circulatory problem that develops when a blood clot slows the circulation in a vein, either right under the skin or deeper in the leg.

    The name gives you a hint about what it is: "thrombo" means clot, and "phlebitis" means a vein with inflammation, or the swelling and irritation that happens as the result of an injury.

    With thrombophlebitis (pronounced thrahm-bow-fleh-bye-tis), a blocked vein in the leg may become swollen, irritated, and even hard to the touch. Most cases involving the shallow leg veins begin to resolve by themselves in a week or two. But in rare occasions, these blocked veins can lead to infection and tissue damage from the loss of healthy circulation.

    When the deeper veins in the leg are involved, there are greater risks. A portion of the clot can break off and enter the bloodstream, travel far from the site where it formed and cause serious problems. If the clot reaches the lungs and blocks circulation there, it can even cause death. Blood thinners are usually started if there are blood clots in the deep veins. In the more serious cases, people with thrombophlebitis may need to be treated with drugs to "melt" the clot, lessen the swelling, or treat any infection that may develop.

    What Causes Thrombophlebitis?

    First, a blood clot forms, which can result from several causes -- most commonly from blood not moving the way it should through the leg veins. You could be sitting down for a long time in a place where you can't stretch out your legs, such as sitting on a long drive or airline flight. When blood sits still, it's more likely to form clots. Clots can also occur with extensive bed rest after a major illness or surgery.

    Varicose veins can cause thrombophlebitis as well. The blood vessels are stretched out too much, allowing blood to pool in the vessel instead of streaming straight through in one direction, which can lead to blood clots.

    People also can develop thrombophlebitis as a complication of intravenous tubes, or IVs. Hospital staffers try to lower this risk by changing the spots where IV lines are placed in the body, but thrombophlebitis still is possible. Pregnant women may also develop thrombophlebitis before or shortly after the baby is born.

    Other risk factors include certain cancers, use of the hormone estrogen for birth control or hormone replacement, age over 60, obesity, smoking, and a personal or family history of blood clots.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 23, 2015

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    woman biting a big ice cube
    Habits that wreck your teeth.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

    It's nothing to sneeze at.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.