Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Phlebitis is inflammation of the vein near the skin’s surface. It’s usually nothing to worry about – read more about the symptoms and causes.

What is phlebitis? 

Phlebitis is the inflammation of blood veins near the surface of the skin. It’s also called superficial thrombophlebitis.

What are the symptoms of phlebitis? 

Phlebitis usually develops on the legs and causes skin changes over the surface of the vein that might include:

  • Pain and redness

  • Tenderness to touch

  • Hard, itchy or painful lumps

Once the phlebitis goes away, you might notice that the area becomes darker. This is because the skin has undergone hyperpigmentation. 

What causes phlebitis?

There are different causes of phlebitis:

  • Varicose veins – Phlebitis is most common in varicose veins, which are enlarged veins you can see just under your skin’s surface. 

  • Blood clots – It can also be caused by a blood clot in the surface veins (which is different to a blood clot in the deep veins, called a DVT) or autoimmune conditions.

  • Infections – Very rarely, an infection might cause phlebitis. 

  • Having blood taken – Some people might develop phlebitis after they’ve had blood taken or a cannula inserted. This is because the needle might have irritated the vein. 

What are risk factors for developing phlebitis?

Some risk factors for developing phlebitis include: 

  • Being overweight 

  • Smoking 

  • Having cancer

  • Pregnancy

How is phlebitis diagnosed? 

A doctor will usually be able to diagnose phlebitis after an examination – it doesn’t usually require testing. 

How is phlebitis treated? 

If you have mild symptoms, phlebitis will usually resolve by itself without any treatment within 2-6 weeks.

If you have any varicose veins, it’s possible that the phlebitis may come back again.

Some things which can be used to help improve symptoms include: 

  • Keeping active to reduce the risk of blood clots forming 

  • Keep your legs elevated

  • Wear compression stockings

  • Place a hot flannel or compress over the affected vein 

  • If you’re in pain, take painkillers to help with your symptoms. As an alternative to painkillers, you can also try applying an anti-inflammatory gel over the affected area

Are there any complications of phlebitis?

Fortunately, phlebitis is not dangerous and is not typically associated with more serious conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). But it’s still worth keeping track of any changes in symptoms, given the small risk that phlebitis can progress to DVT. 

Factors which might increase your risk of a DVT developing include being immobile, having a history of DVTs or if the phlebitis is over a normal vein and not a varicose vein. 

Features to look out for which are of more concern include: 

  • Your lower leg or calf becomes suddenly swollen, hot, red or tender to touch. This is a sign of DVT and requires urgent medical attention. 

  • If you notice the area becoming more red or hot, discharge coming out of the leg or notice yourself becoming unwell, this could be a sign of a skin infection called cellulitis. If this happens, you will require antibiotics.

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you have any of the symptoms of phlebitis, like redness, swelling, lumpiness or pain around a vein for more than a couple of days, speak to a doctor. 

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will make an individual assessment based on your symptoms. You may then be given treatment or referred for specialist care.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi