Phlebitis and Inflammation
Inflammation is the body's response to injury or illness. Anytime you get a cut, contract a virus or bacteria, or get exposed to any kind of irritant, the body immediately tries to fix the problem by turning on its inflammatory response. Phlebitis simply means inflammation of the vein. Injury to a vein can be caused by any kind of change in the vessel wall, problems with the flow of blood through the vein, or conditions that prevent the blood from clotting correctly.
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Superficial vs. Deep Vein Thrombosis
It may be hard to believe, but there are thousands of miles of veins in the body. On a superficial level, they travel through skin, or through the rest of the body and organs by way of deep veins. Inflammation can happen anywhere. The type of phlebitis depends on where the vein is located. Superficial phlebitis affects the veins that are at the skin level. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) refers to phlebitis in veins deep within the body. Sometimes a clot will form in a vein that has become inflamed. This type of phlebitis is called thrombophlebitis.
Sometimes phlebitis may present itself without any symptoms. However, most occurrences cause pain, tenderness, redness, and an enlargement of the vein. Occasionally the path of the redness and pain follow the path of the vein under the skin. In addition, a mild fever may be present. If the vein is easily seen from the surface, and can be felt without palpating or pressing down, this may indicate the presence of a clot. In DVT, redness and swelling affect the extremity and can interfere with walking. DVT is a serious condition, as clots in deep veins can break loose and travel to the heart or lungs, causing a fatal blockage.
Treatments of phlebitis depend on the location. Superficial phlebitis is treated by applying warm compresses, keeping the extremity elevated, and walking. Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, can help with discomfort. People who have frequent bouts of superficial phlebitis may wear compression stockings that promote circulation. If phlebitis is caused by an intravenous (IV) catheter used to administer medications and fluids, it is removed immediately, usually with no complications.
Phlebitis with the presence of a clot or a confirmed diagnosis of DVT requires the administration of an anti-coagulant, or blood thinning, medication. This can be done by injection or oral medication. Some people with DVT may need surgery to place a filter in one of the large veins close to the heart. This keeps clots from entering the lungs. Recovery can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity.
Phlebitis is caused by an injury to a vein that results in inflammation. Superficial phlebitis affects veins at skin level, while deep vein thrombosis (DVT) affects deeper veins like those found in the lower extremities. Treatment includes heat, elevation, and exercise. Occasionally a blood thinning medication is required to treat cases where a clot is present.
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What Is Phlebitis? - Definition, Symptoms & Treatment
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