Vein Thrombosis: Superficial vs Deep

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever felt pain or tenderness over a vein in your arm or leg? Did you know this may be associated with everything from minor trauma to a deadly lung condition to cancer? Don't delay; read this lesson today!

Blood Clots

The last time you cut your skin on something, like a sharp knife while cooking, or scraped your knee while horsing around outside, you would've notice that, at first, there would've been blood coming out of the cut. With time, that bleeding would've stopped. It would've stopped thanks to the fact that our blood can clot. A clot is like a plug that prevents any further movement of blood beyond that plug.

Sometimes, however, these clots develop within the vessels of our body, like the veins. Veins are the blood vessels that carry deoxygenated blood throughout our body. When a blood clot develops within the cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) system, we call this blood clot a thrombus.

Superficial Vein Thrombosis

In some cases, the thrombus forms in the superficial veins of the body. This is called superficial venous thrombosis (SVT), superficial vein thrombosis, or by its more traditional term superficial thrombophlebitis. Note, however, that while these terms are used interchangeably by some authors, the latter term technically implies that there is a blood clot with an inflammatory component. This is because -itis is a suffix that denotes inflammation.

The former two terms technically only imply the formation of a blood clot but without an associated inflammatory component. Further still, some view SVT as mainly a process of blood clots with some, but minimal, inflammation, while superficial thrombophlebitis is a process that mainly involves the inflammation of superficial veins for various reasons but with a minimal clotting of blood, comparatively speaking. That debate is neither here nor there. It's just something for you to keep in mind. We're going to treat them as one and the same in this lesson for simplicity's sake.

SVT can result from many causes, including infection and trauma, and, again, involves the superficial veins of the body. These are the ones lying close to the surface of the skin. Look at the back of your wrist. Do you see those bluish blood vessels coursing through it? Those are superficial veins. Take off your socks. Do you see the many veins coursing through the top of your foot? Those are superficial veins too.

The superficial veins that are most likely to be affected by SVT are those in the arms or legs. In some rare cases, they can occur in the chest or breasts. The thrombi (blood clots) that develop in the superficial veins of the arm are most commonly the result of needles being stuck into those veins, such as when an IV is placed into one during a hospital stay. The thrombi that form in the legs are most commonly the result of varicose veins.

Usually, superficial vein thrombosis doesn't cause any significant problems to the person other than some pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling over the area. All of these are the consequences of inflammation. The most dangerous part of SVT is its association with two main problems. One is the potential that some, but not all, forms of SVT are a sign of certain kinds of cancer. The other problem is the potential of the person developing DVT now or at a later time.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

DVT refers to deep vein (venous) thrombosis. It is a condition that affects the deep veins in the body. These are the ones lying far below the skin surface--ones you can't see. These veins are found deep within or between the muscles of your body. Most often, the blood clots form in the deep veins of the legs, but they can form in other places, such as the deep veins of the arms. In contrast to SVT, DVT is less likely to cause inflammatory problems, and thus the person may not even know they have DVT since they feel no pain. In other instances, the pain is quite evident due to the concurrent inflammation.

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