The term phlebitis refers to an inflammation of a vein, usually in the leg, frequently accompanied by blood clots that adhere to the wall of the vein. When the affected vein is close to the surface, the condition is called superficial phlebitis.
Risk factors for any type of phlebitis include recent surgery or childbirth, varicose veins, inactivity, sitting for long periods (such as on a long airplane ride), and smoking. Prolonged placement of intravenous catheters can also cause phlebitis, possibly requiring antibiotic treatment. The use of progestins (synthetic progesterones, but not natural progesterone) will increase the likelihood of deep vein thrombophlebitis by 3 to 4 times.
Symptoms of superficial phlebitis include pain, swelling, redness, and warmth around the affected vein. The vein feels hard to the touch because of the clotted blood.
Deep vein thrombosis is more difficult to diagnose. It can occur without any symptoms until the clot reaches the lungs. However, in about half of cases, there are warning symptoms including swelling, pain and warmth in the entire calf, ankle, foot, or thigh (depending on where the involved vein is located). Although these symptoms can also be caused by more benign conditions, deep vein thrombosis is such a life-threatening disorder that physician consultation is necessary.
Conventional treatments for superficial phlebitis include analgesics for pain, warm compresses, and compression bandages or stockings to increase blood flow. In more severe cases, anticoagulants or minor surgery may be required. Superficial phlebitis inflammation generally is reduced within 7-10 days, but it may be 3-6 weeks for the problem to be entirely gone.
Deep vein thrombosis requires more aggressive treatment, including hospitalization, strong anticoagulants, and a variety of possible surgical procedures.
Note: Because deep vein phlebitis is a potentially life-threatening disorder, you should seek a doctor's advice before attempting any natural treatments.
Aortic glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are substances found in the tissues of the body including blood vessels, and sometimes available supplementally. They are closely related to the anticoagulant drug heparin. Preliminary evidence suggests that aortic GAGs might be helpful in treating phlebitis, although not all studies agree. [Ann Ital Med Int. 1989;4: pp.378-85, Minerva Med. 1984;75: pp.1733-8]
Homeopathy (to be taken 4 times daily for up to 7 days):
This condition usually resolves on its own without further complications.
If a swollen, painful vein does not disappear within 2 weeks, consult a physician.
A one-month of treatment reduced lower limb circumference and improved subjective symptoms better than horse chestnut seed extract in a study of 40 patients with diagnosed chronic venous insufficiency. [Phytother Res 2002;16(2): pp.1-5]
Horse chestnut is often used for chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins – conditions related to phlebitis. For this reason, horse chestnut is sometimes recommended for phlebitis as well, but may be better suited for prevention of the condition.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to prevent blood platelet aggregation, bromelain has been suggested as a treatment for phlebitis. There are some positive reports in clinical trials of bromelain improving thrombophlebitis. [Planta Med 1990 56:249, Alt. Med. Rev. 1996 1:243, Angiology. 1969;20: pp.22-6]
It is important to get regular moderate exercise. Walking is the best, and swimming may also be helpful. Regular exercise increases the body's ability to dissolve clots.
Wherever you may be, do not sit for more than an hour at a time without getting up and walking around. Better yet, every hour exercise the legs for 2 minutes, as if you are riding a bike (lifting the legs) while breathing deeply. Do not squat (sit back on your heels), except momentarily. If you have to travel a distance while seated (airplane, car, etc.), stop and walk around every so often. Do not let the circulation become sluggish.
Superficial phlebitis can be treated by elevating the leg frequently. It is not necessary to rest in bed but, every so often, rest with the leg 6-10 inches above the heart. This speeds the healing process. You can also lie on a slant board, if available, with your feet higher than your head for 15 minutes per day, especially if you stand on your feet a lot.
If you have to lie in bed for a long time, move your legs every so often to increase circulation. Elevate the foot of your bed by several inches to reduce venous pressure in your legs, which also reduces edema and pain. Do not use pillows under the legs, for doing so may reduce circulation.
Hot packs may be helpful for superficial thrombophlebitis but probably will not benefit deep vein thrombosis. Taking alternating hot and cold sitz baths or using alternating hot and cold compresses may help improve circulation in the affected area.
Milroy's disease is a rare, incurable disease due to poor development of the lymphatic system, with a consequent chronic pooling of lymph in the legs often with recurring attacks of thrombophlebitis. Every case Dr. Shute, MD treated with vitamin E resulted in a positive response, with some cases being fully cured. The dose of vitamin E used for thrombophlebitis is 600-1,600 IU daily.
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