Superficial Thrombophlebitis | Symptoms and Cause | MedStar Health

A condition that causes pain and swelling just below the skin

Superficial thrombophlebitis is a blood clot near the surface of the skin that causes inflammation of the vein. You might see a hard red cord just under the surface of the skin that is tender to the touch. You’ll also likely experience warmth, redness, and swelling in the affected area. Our Vein Program specialists will help control your symptoms and reduce the risk of serious complications.

This condition is in contrast to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which affects veins deep in the body. While a DVT can travel through the bloodstream to the heart, lungs, or brain and cause a stroke or Pulmonary Embolism, superficial thrombophlebitis usually will not do this, although it can be painful.

What causes superficial thrombophlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis may form as a result of:

  • An injury to a vein
  • An inherited blood-clotting disorder
  • Being immobile for long periods of time, such as sitting on a plane or recovering from surgery
  • Having an intravenous (IV) line placed

Your risk of superficial thrombophlebitis increases if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are pregnant or have just given birth
  • Are receiving cancer treatment
  • Have varicose veins

  • Smoke


Diagnosing superficial thrombophlebitis is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.


A fluoroscopy is an imaging technique that uses a continuous X-ray beam passed through the body to create real-time, moving images of your internal structures.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology used to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Superficial thrombophlebitis often improves on its own. If it doesn’t, we’ll work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that may include compression garments, medication, or more advanced procedures. If you are at risk for superficial thrombophlebitis, your doctor can recommend prevention strategies before surgery or before taking a long road trip or flight.


Sclerotherapy is a nonsurgical procedure to treat varicose and spider veins.

Venous Disease Treatments

Venous disease treatment may include medications, minimally invasive and surgical procedures to improve blood flow and circulation.

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