Medical Q&As

Phlebitis - what is it?

What is phlebitis?

Phlebitis means inflammation of the veins and this usually occurs in the leg veins. It occurs in two forms; a superficial form that occurs in the superficial veins on the surface of the leg and a deep form that occurs in the deep veins in the calf of the leg. Phlebitis in the superficial veins is also known as superficial thrombophlebitis. The affected vein looks inflamed and can be very tender to the touch. It usually feels like a cord under the skin if the fingers are gently rubbed across the skin. It can be quite painful and often feels very itchy. Phlebitis in the deep veins can result in thrombosis or clot formation, which we refer to as D.V.T (deep venous thrombosis). This is a potentially serious development because fragments of clot can break off resulting in pulmonary embolism. In other words a fragment of the clot can travel to the lungs resulting in potentially serious and sometimes life threatening consequences. This is the pathological mechanism that gives rise to the so-called “economy class syndrome” that we associate with long-haul air travel. The risk of pulmonary embolism only arises in the case of deep vein thrombosis and does not arise in the superficial form of phlebitis.