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Phlebitis vs DVT


Have your legs recently started to become painful? Have you had varicose veins for a while, but now the veins have become red and tender?

Not many people have heard of phlebitis, but it's a common vein condition. Leg phlebitis tends to occur most frequently in people with varicose veins, but some people without externally visible varicose veins can develop phlebitis.

Phlebitis occurs when the veins have become inflamed. Inflammation within a vein can be caused by stretch injury to the vein wall, or clot formation inside the vein.

What's the difference between phlebitis and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?

Phlebitis is a general term that indicates that there's confirmed (or suspected) inflammation in a vein. Most commonly the tissues surrounding the vein will also be inflamed. Phlebitis can occur in the superficial or the deep veins of the legs.

Phlebitis is commonly (but not universally) associated with a blood clot. Some people can develop phlebitis without clot being present.

Superficial vein phlebitis is normally a mild problem, that's not life or limb-threatening. This being said superficial phlebitis can cause significant pain and tenderness. The amount of pain and tenderness is influenced by the extent of vein involvement. In some people, the problem can be quite localized, and in other people, phlebitis can affect large sections of the calf or thigh.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition where a blood clot has occurred within a deep vein in the leg. When DVT occurs the leg may suddenly become swollen. Quite often there is mild-moderate tenderness in the area where the clot is located. DVT is a more serious condition than superficial phlebitis. The reason why DVT is potentially serious is that blood clots in the deep veins can fragment/dislodge and travel in the bloodstream to the heart and lungs. This condition is known as a pulmonary embolus (PE) or pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.

How do I tell whether I've got phlebitis or DVT?

Short answer; it's nearly impossible to know based simply upon the appearance of your leg. The safest strategy is to seek expedited ultrasound evaluation. A venous ultrasound will allow any areas of localized phlebitis or DVT to be visualized. Once the diagnosis is confirmed an appropriate treatment recommendation can be made.

What types of treatments are usually recommended?

If you have DVT then you'll likely need to go on a blood thinner (unless there is a compelling contraindication). If you have phlebitis you or may not need to be treated with a blood thinner.

What type of doctors treat phlebitis?

Phlebitis is a condition that's typically managed by vein specialists. A vein specialist is a physician who has dedicated his or her career to the management and treatment of vein problems. There are various types of physicians who work as vein specialists. Surgeons who sub-specialize in vascular disease are known as vascular surgeons. It's generally accepted that vascular surgeons are experts in the diagnosis and management of vein problems. 

At Vascular Solutions, we pride ourselves on being the best vein specialists in Charlotte and the Carolinas.

We hope that you have found this information beneficial. If you think you have phlebitis or DVT you should schedule an appointment today.




Peter Ford MD FACS RPVI Peter Ford, MD, FACS, RPVI, is a board certified vascular surgeon who works at Vascular Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Ford specializes in the management of varicose veins and venous disease.

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