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Phlebitis and thrombosis of the superficial lower extremity veins

Sherry Scovell, MD, FACS
Section Editors
John F Eidt, MD
Joseph L Mills, Sr, MD
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Collins, MD, PhD, FACS


Phlebitis and thrombosis of the lower extremity superficial veins (ie, superficial thrombophlebitis) is generally a benign, self-limited disorder; however, when the larger axial veins are involved (ie, superficial vein thrombosis [SVT]), propagation into the deep vein system (ie, deep vein thrombosis [DVT]) and even pulmonary embolism can occur [1,2]. Treatment is aimed at relieving local symptoms and preventing thromboembolic complications.

The clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of phlebitis and thrombosis of the lower extremity superficial veins are reviewed here. Phlebitis and thrombosis involving upper extremity veins most often occurs in the context of upper extremity venous cannulation, and is discussed separately. Evaluation and treatment of patients with DVT are discussed separately. (See "Catheter-related upper extremity venous thrombosis" and "Diagnosis of suspected deep vein thrombosis of the lower extremity" and "Overview of the treatment of lower extremity deep vein thrombosis (DVT)".)


The term phlebitis refers to the presence of inflammation within a vein, whereas thrombosis indicates the presence of clot within the vein [3]. The veins of the lower extremity are depicted in the figures (figure 1A-B).

A source of ongoing confusion is the persistent use of the abandoned term "superficial” femoral vein to describe the main deep vein in the thigh, properly called the femoral vein, which is adjacent to the superficial femoral artery (figure 2) [4,5]. A need for a change in terminology was recognized when it became apparent that a majority of primary care physicians would not have treated a patient with a "superficial” femoral vein thrombosis with anticoagulation [4]. (See "Classification of lower extremity chronic venous disorders", section on 'Anatomy (The "A" component of CEAP)'.)

In this review we will refer to the terminology surrounding this condition in the following manner:


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Apr 18, 2016.
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