Deep vein thrombosis

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis

Max. D Gray
By Max. D Gray. Updated: July 31, 2018
Possible Causes Of Phlebitis

As with all conditions ending in '-itis', phlebitis refers to an inflammation. Specifically, it is the inflammation of of the veins caused by some sort of obstruction. If this obstruction is caused by a blood clot (known as a thrombosis), then it is called thrombophlebitis. The clot restricts movement of blood through the vein which leads to the inflammation, but there are other potential causes of this disease. Unfortunately, as with many medical conditions, the causes can be difficult to determine. That is why oneHOWTO provides all the possible causes of phlebitis. By doing so you can reduce the risk of developing phlebitis or help treat the symptoms if you already have it.

You may also be interested in: How to Cure Phlebitis with Home Remedies


  1. Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis
  2. Causes of Phlebitis
  3. Medical condition
  4. Lifestyle related causes of phlebitis
  5. Physical trauma
  6. Medication
  7. Treatment of phlebitis

Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis

Phlebitis can occur in any vein (as any vein can inflame). However, there are two types which have a key distinction. The first is deep vein thrombosis, a severe condition where a blood clot develops in a deep vein. It can lead to complications such as pulmonary embolism whereby the blood clot separates and can travel to lungs. It is potentially life threatening and one of the main reasons you should always have your veins checked by a physician in case you need medical assistance.

The more common type of phlebitis is superficial thrombophlebitis. While it can and will likely cause some pain during inflammation, it is to be found in a superficial vein and does not have the same risks. This is the type of phlebitis on which we will focus in this article, but we have more information on if you want to know about deep vein thrombosis instead.

The symptoms of phlebitis vary according to the severity of the condition. If you have mild phlebitis, you may not even notice the inflammation. However, more likely, you will experience the following:

  • a hard lump under the skin, tubular in shape (known as induration)
  • pain in the affected area
  • erythema which is a general term for redness in the skin (usually along a red line along the vein)
  • heat coming from the affected area
  • discomfort when moving the body part
  • itchiness
  • burning sensation

If there is an infection causing the phlebitis, you may experience symptoms stemming from this such as increased pain, fever and more swelling.

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis - Symptoms of superficial thrombophlebitis

Causes of Phlebitis

The first possible cause of phlebitis is decreasing blood flow speed (stasis). If blood flows more slowly, the chances of sedimentation of different substances are greater. This decreased blood speed may occur to many issues, but a sedentary lifestyle is of particular concern. A sedentary life is one which does not involve a sufficient amount of exercise. This can be a lack of rigorous exercise associated with unhealthy lifestyles, but it can also occur more in certain professions. If you work sitting at a desk all day and do not get up enough, your blood flow can slow.

Reduced speed of blood flow can also occur thanks to prolonged periods of inactivity. This might be from an accident which has left you bedridden, sitting for long hours watching TV or even going on long journeys. This is why there are greater risks of developing phlebitis when on long car or bus rides. The change in air pressure of air travel can exacerbate this condition and potentially cause deep vein thrombosis which is why it is recommended passengers take short walks on long flights.

Medical condition

Blood clotting can occur for different reasons, but the most common cause is an underlying medical condition. Blood platelets and plasma proteins can thicken to cause clotting. if you have any of the following, blood clotting can be a resultant symptom:

  • arteriosclerosis - thickening of the blood vessel walls
  • heart arrhythmia - irregular heartbeat
  • bad circulation (e.g. peripheral artery disease)
  • varicose veins - one of the most common causes of phlebitis, this occurs due to damage to the valves in veins
  • stroke
  • alcoholism
  • stasis ulcer
  • sever dehydration

Any of these conditions can potentially change the composition of the blood. Essentially, if there is any damage to the vein walls or if there is increased sedimentation in the blood, it can cause clots, blockages and inflammation.

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis - Medical condition

Lifestyle related causes of phlebitis

Apart from the sedentary lifestyle we discussed earlier there are other issues related to how we look after ourselves. Obesity has been related to cardiovascular disease for a long time[1]. This can affect blood flow and indirectly lead to vascular trouble like phlebitis. High cholesterol diets can also lead to fatty build up on the vein walls, restricting blood flow and leading to inflammation. There are differences in stages of being overweight, obesity being one of them. The amount and type of food as well as amount and type of exercise has significant influence, as well as actual body weight.

Smoking has also been a related cause to phlebitis. Smoking can cause veins to restrict and lead to something called lower limb venous insufficiency. While there has not always been the most studied reports on how smoking affects vascular health, a 2002 report concludes that "smoking is significantly associated with lower limb venous insufficiency"[2]. This can lead to phlebitis, especially if you are a heavy smoker.

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis - Lifestyle related causes of phlebitis

Physical trauma

Another possible cause of phlebitis is physical trauma. This can be as simple as banging your leg or arm and causing damage to the vein. This is one of the reasons why you should go to the doctor after suffering trauma, just in case you have caused some damage which is not visible above skin. If you have a trip or fall, especially if you are older or have a pre-existing vascular condition, then you should get checked out if you feel any abnormality in your veins.

Trauma caused by surgery or another invasive medical procedure can lead to phlebitis. While doctors work on one area, they often will have to clamp veins or but them to perform the surgery. Damage to the veins are a possible complication post surgery.

Whether for a medical purpose or due to recreational intravenous drug use, physical trauma can be caused by injections into the veins. This could be due to injecting drugs such as heroin, but can also stem from being given a drip, a blood test or even from a catheter.

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis - Physical trauma


People who take certain types of contraceptive pill can have vascular problems as a side effect of this medication. Vascular disease has been linked to oral contraceptive pills since at least the 1960s[3]. Some antibiotics such as ceftazidime (Fortraz) or have been linked to phlebitis as has dopram (doxapram hydrochloride) injections for helping with respiratory illnesses.

Possible Causes Of Phlebitis - Medication

Treatment of phlebitis

Superficial thrombophlebitis often will go away on its own once blood flow is increased and the blockage dissipates. This might be from improving your lifestyle by exercising and eating more healthily. Reducing or stopping alcohol intake can also have a positive bearing on phlebitis, as can quitting smoking. Here are some more possible treatments for phlebitis:

  • anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen, however, not everyone can take NSAIDs like this as it may have contraindications or exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
  • topical anti-inflammatory creams or gels
  • compression stockings (as superficial thrombophlebitis often occurs on the legs, these can be very useful as they compress the area and promote removal of the blockage)
  • increased activity and prevention of inertia
  • putting a warm compress on the affected area

While phlebitis in itself is not usually cause for major medical concern, it can lead to certain other complications, so check with a doctor if you experience any of these related problems. When you do so, you can discuss with them some of the natural remedies for treating phlebitis to see if any of these might be useful to you.

Phlebitis is not an infection and therefore should not be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor should recommend a duplex ultrasound scan to make sure you have a correct diagnosis and to rule out or asses the possibility of deep vein thrombosis.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Possible Causes Of Phlebitis, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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