Phlebitis, or venous thrombosis, is a cardiovascular disorder caused by the appearance of a blood clot. It is most commonly found in the leg and calf. What are its symptoms, and how is it treated?
What is Phlebitis?
Phlebitis, also known as vein thrombosis, is caused by the formation of a blood clot (thrombosis) in a vein, blocking all or part of the blood passage. It can occur anywhere in the body, but appears most frequently in the legs. Each year, phlebitis is responsible for more than 800,000 deaths worldwide.
There are two types of phlebitis, with their differentiation depending on the vein affected and the degree of severity. Superficial phlebitis affects the veins just under the skin, most often at the level of a varicose vein. The clot is small and does not pose a health risk.
Deep phlebitis appears in the deep venous network, which supplies blood to muscles and tissues. The blood flow is more important and exerts a stronger pressure on the clot. The clot can then break away and reach the heart, where it can block one of the main arteries of the human body. Deep phlebitis leads to many serious complications, such as pulmonary embolism. It requires immediate care in a hospital.
Symptoms: How to Recognize Phlebitis
Symptoms differ depending on the type of phlebitis. Superficial phlebitis is the most visible. Swelling and hardening of the vein under the skin is observed. Inflammation usually extends to the surrounding skin area, making it painful and sensitive to the touch. Edema may also occur.
Symptoms of deep phlebitis depend on the location of the blood clot. They are less visible and therefore harder to diagnose. There is usually deep pain in the calf or thigh, as well as a feeling of warmth, numbness of the leg, and - in some cases - the appearance of edema. The patient will feel pain when they raise their toes upwords. This is known as the Homans sign, which is characteristic of venous thrombosis.
Causes and Risk Factors of Phlebitis
Some people are more predisposed than others to develop phlebitis. People with cancer and pregnant women are four times more at risk than others. People with venous insufficiency (nervous system failure) and heart problems (especially those with pacemakers) are also at a greater risk than the general population.
Other factors must also be taken into account. A long period of immobility, such as long plane trips or prolonged bed rest, greatly increases the risks. Smoking, age, and obesity also play a role in the occurrence of phlebitis.
Treatment of Phlebitis
In case of deep phlebitis, treatment with anticoagulant drugs should be administered immediately. These aim to dissolve the blood clot. The most frequently used are low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) and antivitamin K (AVK). Venous compression is also administered within the first few days. Afterwards, it is recommended to wear a compression stocking for several months in order to prevent any complications, such as post-thrombotic syndrome.
Superficial phlebitis requires only local treatment. In most cases, extended bedrest with elevation of the leg is sufficient for healing.