Superficial Phlebitis

Superficial phlebitis is a condition which affects the superficial veins in the foot, which can become inflamed or irritated. The legs and feet have two types of veins that bring blood back to the heart and lungs. The deep veins are located close to the bone and the superficial veins are located just under the skin. Superficial veins are often visible through the skin. Superficial phlebitis can occur along any of the superficial veins in the body but are most common in the legs and feet. When there is inflammation of a vein, it is called thrombophlebitis.


Superficial phlebitis is usually the result of a small blood clot forming in the vein which then causes irritation. A blood clot in a superficial vein is generally not serious or life threatening, such as one which forms in a deep vein. When this occurs it is called deep vein thrombosis and is highly serious. Should the clot become dislodged, it can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, by stopping the blood flow to a section of the lung causing the tissues to die. Since many of the causes of superficial phlebitis can also cause deep vein thrombosis, it is important to see a doctor if you experience unexplained superficial phlebitis to rule out blood clotting disorders and to take steps to avoid developing deep vein thrombosis.

Causes of blood clots in veins include direct injury to the vein; long periods of inactivity such as airplane rides or bed rest; oral birth control pills or other hormonal medications in addition to a wide range of underlying diseases and genetic disorders.

When superficial phlebitis occurs on the top of the foot, the most common cause is direct injury. We constantly use our feet for walking, running, and they are subjected to considerable forces, and doe to their location can be prone to injury. While not all injuries to the foot will cause superficial phlebitis, only a slight injury is needed to trigger a blood clot or irritation in the veins of the foot. Even shoes that are tied to tightly or rub against the top of the foot can cause enough harm to result in superficial phlebitis.

The first symptom of superficial phlebitis on the top of the foot is often pain or tenderness around the veins. Other symptoms include redness, swelling, and skin which is warmer around the affected area than other parts of the foot. The pain will increase with pressure on the vein. A blood clot in a superficial vein can usually be felt with the fingers. Depending on the size and location of the clot, the hard mass of the blood clot can be rounded or elongated.

Even though most cases of superficial phlebitis will clear up without intervention in a few weeks, many people would like to relieve the pain and tenderness caused by superficial phlebitis. If uncomfortable shoes are the cause of the problem phlebitis or are aggravating the condition, try loosening your laces, changing to a different pair of shoes, wearing thicker socks or placing padding such as lamb’s wool over the area where the shoe causing pain. Icing the vein can bring down inflammation and offer some relief from the pain. Elevation of the feet can also bring down swelling and may help blood flow more easily through the affected vein.

Moving the feet is important in the treatment and prevention of superficial phlebitis. If you must sit or lie down for long periods, simply moving the feet in circles at least once every fifteen minutes can prevent superficial phlebitis.


Medical References
orthoinfo.aaos.org, merckmanuals.com, emedicine.medscape.com

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