If thrombophlebitis is in a vein just under your skin (superficial vein), complications are rare. However, if the clot occurs in a deep vein you may develop a serious medical condition known as deep vein thrombosis. If that happens, the risk of serious complications is greater. Complications may include:
- Pulmonary embolism. If part of a deep vein clot becomes dislodged, it may travel to your lungs, where it can block an artery (embolism) and cause a potentially life-threatening situation.
- Post-phlebetic syndrome. This condition, also known as post-thrombotic syndrome, can develop months or even years after you've had deep vein thrombosis. Post-phlebetic syndrome can cause lasting and possibly disabling pain, swelling and a feeling of heaviness in the affected leg. The use of compression stockings for two years or longer after deep vein thrombosis can help prevent or treat this condition.
Deep vein thrombosis also may damage valves in the veins in your legs. Veins have valves to prevent blood from flowing back as it is gradually pushed uphill toward your heart. When the valves in the veins of your legs don't work properly, several problems can occur:
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- Varicose veins. The pooling of blood in your veins can cause them to balloon, resulting in varicose veins.
- Swelling. In some cases, the pooling may become so bad that your leg swells (edema).
- Skin discoloration. With chronic swelling and increased pressure on your skin, discoloration may occur. Sometimes, skin ulcers may develop. If you suspect a skin ulcer is forming, call your doctor.
- Torpy JM, et al. Thrombophlebitis. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2011;305:1372.
- Deep vein thrombosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dvt/printall-index.html. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Venous thromboembolism diagnosis and treatment. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. https://www.icsi.org/guidelines__more/catalog_guidelines_and_more/catalog_guidelines/catalog_cardiovascular_guidelines/vte_treatment/. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Fernandez L, et al. Superficial thrombophlebitis of the lower extremity. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular_disorders/peripheral_venous_disorders/deep_venous_thrombosis_dvt.html. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Antithrombotic therapy and prevention of thrombosis, 9th ed. Northbrook, Ill.: American College of Chest Physicians. http://journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1159399. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- Di Nisio M, et al. Treatment for superficial thrombophlebitis of the leg. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004982.pub5/abstract. Accessed Oct. 3, 2013.
- McBane RD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 11, 2013.
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