Vein inflammation: causes and symptoms of an inflamed vein

Inflammation of the veins (phlebitis) refers to local inflammation and clot formation of the wall of a superficial vein and mainly occurs in varicose veins. It can also occur as a result of an IV or after trauma, for example due to a fall or bump. Usually a phlebitis is harmless (not dangerous) and the symptoms are minor. The most common symptoms are local pain, redness around the inflamed vein and hardening of the vein due to the clot present. Furthermore, it is often accompanied by swelling due to fluid retention. A vein infection usually occurs in a leg (or groin), but it can also occur on your arm or (less often) elsewhere in the body. How long does a phlebitis last? A phlebitis often disappears on its own within a few days to weeks, without any further consequences. Medication may be used, such as simple anti-inflammatory painkillers.

  • What is a phlebitis?
  • Causes of phlebitis
  • Risk factors of an inflamed vein
  • Phlebotomy symptoms
  • Phenomena
  • Often on legs or arms
  • Thrombotic leg
  • When to seek medical attention?
  • Diagnosis and research
  • Physical examination and anamnesis
  • Visual art investigation
  • Phlebitis treatment
  • Elastic stockings and painkillers
  • Thrombotic leg
  • Self-care
  • Prognosis
  • Prevention


What is a phlebitis?

The medical name for phlebitis is ‘phlebitis’. A phlebitis refers to a local, painful inflammation of the vessel wall of a superficial vein and the surrounding tissue. ‘Superficial veins’ refer to veins that run just under the skin. The inflammation is caused by the formation of a clot in such a vein. A phlebitis is characterized by red, warm strands and possible swelling or fluid accumulation in the tissue. After a few days to weeks, phlebitis disappears spontaneously. Phlebitis is relatively common and affects approximately 1 in 1000 people. The risk of phlebitis increases with age. Men are more likely to develop phlebitis than women.

Causes of phlebitis

A phlebitis is usually caused by varicose veins, but it can also be caused by injuries (for example due to bumps or stitches), by mechanical irritation as a result of, for example, an IV needle, allergies and other sources of inflammation in the body. Vein inflammation also often occurs as a side effect of administering chemotherapy (especially with FEC treatments) in the vein where the chemotherapy has entered.

Being overweight is a risk factor for phlebitis / Source: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Risk factors of an inflamed vein

Most phlebitis occurs spontaneously and occurs in varicose veins. Risk factors for developing phlebitis are:

  • Prolonged immobility, such as sitting for a long time (for example during a long flight) or lying down (for example as a result of being bedridden or hospitalized);
  • Operations and the presence of an IV needle;
  • Pregnancies;
  • Sedentary lifestyle (not getting enough exercise);
  • Overweight;
  • Smoking;
  • Certain medical conditions, such as cancer or blood disorders, that increase blood clotting;
  • Injury to arms or legs;
  • Hormone replacement therapy or use of birth control pills;
  • Varicose veins.


Phlebotomy symptoms


The symptoms of a phlebitis are:

  • Redness (a red spot or stripe on the skin)
  • Local swelling
  • The place feels warm
  • Burning feeling
  • Local pain (when touched and while walking) or painful veins
  • Pus in or around the insertion opening
  • Depending on the cause of the inflammation, fever may occur
  • Discomfort or inability to use the affected limb
  • Hard subcutaneous cord or lump,
  • Connective tissue formation
  • Formation of small, local blood clots (called ‘thrombophlebitis’)


Often on legs or arms

A phlebitis can occur in the legs, but also in the arms. A phlebitis very rarely occurs in other parts of the body, such as the chest or neck.

Thrombotic leg

If the phlebitis is larger than 5 centimeters, a thrombosed leg may develop, which can be recognized as a red, painful and thick leg. With a thrombosis leg, a clot develops in a blood vessel, which can block a blood vessel in the leg. Thrombotic leg is also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

When to seek medical attention?

Contact your doctor if you experience symptoms such as swelling, pain, and inflamed superficial veins on your arms or legs. If you do not recover within a week or two or if it gets worse, you should go back to the doctor to see if there is a more serious condition. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms:

  • High fever with symptoms in an arm or leg;
  • Lumps in one leg;
  • Severe pain and swelling in an arm or leg;
  • New, unexplained significant shortness of breath.


Collection of blood for research / Source:

Diagnosis and research

Physical examination and anamnesis

The doctor will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms. He will also take your medical history into account. In addition, if a thrombosis is suspected, blood tests may be useful. The amount of D-dimer is measured. With an increased amount of D-Dimer, the risk of thrombosis is high.

Visual art investigation

Ultrasound can detect clots or a blockage of blood flow, especially in larger, more proximal (thigh) veins. Sometimes a venogram is needed to identify blood clots in the smaller, more distal veins. A venogram is a test that involves taking an X-ray of the vein that returns blood to the heart.

Phlebitis treatment

Elastic stockings and painkillers

Usually a phlebitis is harmless. Treatment of a minor phlebitis with relatively few symptoms is usually not necessary, but will disappear spontaneously within a few days to weeks. If, on the other hand, you suffer from extensive phlebitis or if the phlebitis is accompanied by many complaints, wearing an elastic stocking can provide relief and relieve the complaints. Simple anti-inflammatory painkillers are usually prescribed, such as ibuprofen and (acetyl) salicylates. If there is a skin infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.

Thrombotic leg

A thrombosed leg is treated with (often two types of) blood thinners. You can also get a support stocking. After 1 and 2 weeks there will be a follow-up check with an ultrasound.


Apply a warm compress to the affected area. Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug, can help reduce the pain and inflammation of superficial phlebitis. Compression stockings improve blood flow and can help relieve pain and swelling, as well as reduce the risk of developing DVT.


Phlebitis in the superficial veins is rarely serious and usually resolves within 1-2 weeks and responds well to pain relief, elevating the affected leg and applying warm compresses.

Drink enough fluids every day / Source: Luminast/


The following measures can help prevent phlebitis:

  • The best way to prevent phlebitis is to be active and exercise. Try to exercise daily in the form of walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, dancing, gardening, etc.
  • Avoid long periods of sitting or lying down (if possible).
  • Avoid bed rest for extended periods. Or wear supportive stockings if prolonged bed rest is unavoidable.
  • When you are traveling and cannot move properly for a long time, such as on a plane, get up regularly and move occasionally or break your journey, such as a long car ride, to go for a walk and stretch your legs.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.


read more

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  • Swollen vein: causes and symptoms of a swollen vein
  • Removing varicose veins: laser, recovery and compensation
  • Swollen ankles and swollen feet: causes and treatment
  • Painful veins: causes, symptoms, treatment & self-care
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