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Symptoms and Signs of Phlebitis

Doctor's Notes on Phlebitis Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment, and Management

Phlebitis is the medical term for inflammation of a vein. Veins are the blood vessels that collect blood and return it to the heart for delivery to the lungs. Thrombophlebitis is phlebitis that occurs together with a blood clot (thrombus) inside of a vein. Phlebitis has many causes. Some of the most common causes include trauma or injury, prolonged immobility, insertion of intravenous (IV) catheters, burns, and certain surgical procedures.

Symptoms of phlebitis include pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness at the affected area. If the condition occurs in the leg, it may be difficult to walk. Feeling a cord-like structure along the course of a vein is a possible sign of thrombophlebitis. Other associated symptoms can include fever and drainage of pus. Mild cases of phlebitis may be asymptomatic, meaning that no symptoms are present.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Phlebitis Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment, and Management Symptoms

Superficial phlebitis

  • There is usually a slow onset of a tender red area along the superficial veins on the skin. A long, thin red area may be seen as the inflammation follows the path of the superficial vein. It may spread in a spider like pattern if smaller feeder veins become involved.
  • This area may feel hard, warm, and tender. The skin around the vein may be itchy and swollen.
  • The area may begin to throb or burn.
  • Symptoms may be worse when the leg is lowered, especially when first getting out of bed in the morning.
  • A low-grade fever may occur.
  • Sometimes phlebitis may occur at the site where a peripheral intravenous (IV) line was started. The surrounding area may be sore and tender along the vein.
  • If an infection is present, symptoms may include redness, fever, pain, swelling, or breakdown of the skin.

Deep vein thrombophlebitis

The classic signs and symptoms include redness, warmth, swelling, and pain in the affected extremity. Often one extremity is more swollen than the other. Occasionally the discoloration may be more bluish than red.

Phlebitis Signs, Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatment, and Management Causes

Superficial phlebitis is usually caused by local trauma to a vein. Superficial phlebitis is most often caused by an intravenous catheter (IV) placed in a vein, and the vein becomes irritated. Superficial phlebitis may or not have a blood clot form to cause the pain and inflammation. In the legs, superficial phlebitis can be associated with varicose veins.

Causes of deep vein thrombosis or thrombophlebitis include:

  • inactivity (blood pools in the veins and tends to clot if a person is inactive for a prolonged period of time);
  • trauma, and
  • blood clotting abnormalities (may be inherited).

Risk factors for DVT include:

  • Prolonged inactivity (for example, a long airplane or car ride, an extremity immobilized in a cast or splint, being bedridden for an illness or after surgery, a sedentary lifestyle, inactivity with little or no exercise)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking cigarettes, especially when combined with hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
  • During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus can also compress the large veins in the pelvis increasing the risk of blood clotting.
  • Certain medical conditions such as cancer or blood disorders that increase the potential of blood clotting
  • Injury to the arms or legs

DVT in Pictures Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis, Beyond Leg Pain and More Slideshow

DVT in Pictures Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis, Beyond Leg Pain and More Slideshow

Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms inside a vein, usually deep within your leg. About half a million Americans every year get one, and up to 100,000 die because of it. The danger is that part of the clot can break off and travel through your bloodstream. It could get stuck in your lungs and block blood flow, causing organ damage or death.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.