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Cardiovascular System

Thrombo means "clot." Phlebitis is inflammation of a vein. Thrombophlebitis occurs mostly in the legs. It is a circulatory problem that develops when a blood clot slows the circulation in a vein, either right under the skin or deeper in the leg. On rare occasions, thrombophlebitis can affect veins in your arms.


If thrombophlebitis is in a superficial vein just under your skin, serious complications are rare. However, if the clot occurs in a deep vein, the risk of serious complications is great. Complications may include:

  • Pulmonary embolism. If part of a deep vein clot becomes dislodged, it may travel to your lung, where it can block an artery (pulmonary embolism) and cause a potentially life-threatening situation.

  • Heart attack or stroke. If there's a hole in your heart that allows blood to flow from the right chamber to the left chamber — either between the upper chambers (atria) or between the lower chambers (ventricles) — a traveling clot can enter your arterial circulation and cause a heart attack or stroke. These complications are much less frequent than the complication of a pulmonary embolism.

A deep vein thrombosis may also damage valves in the veins in your legs. Because veins don't have muscle in their walls to help pump the blood back from your legs to your heart, they're affected by gravity and by the gentle squeezing provided by the surrounding muscle. To improve the flow of blood back to the heart, veins have valves. The valves in the veins prevent the blood from flowing back as it is gradually pushed uphill toward the heart. When the valves in the veins of your legs don't work properly, several problems can occur:

  • Varicose veins. The pooling of blood can lead to ballooning of the veins, resulting in varicose veins.

  • Swelling. In some cases, the pooling may become so bad in a condition called venous insufficiency that your leg swells.

  • Skin discoloration. With chronic swelling and increased pressure on your skin, discoloration called stasis pigmentation may occur. In some cases, skin ulcers may develop.

  • Vein obstruction. If you have several episodes of deep vein thrombosis, a permanent obstruction could develop in the vein.

Thrombophlebitis > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:26 AM