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JAMA Patient Page
August 10, 2005


JAMA. 2005;294(6):762. doi:10.1001/jama.294.6.762

Blood clots can form in arteries or veins. When inflammation due to a blood clot occurs in a vein, it is called thrombophlebitis. Thrombophlebitis usually occurs in the veins of the legs. Rarely, it can occur in the veins of the arms or neck. Superficial (on the surface) thrombophlebitis occurs in the visible veins just under the skin. The area of inflammation is usually reddened, tender, and warm to the touch and can be painful. The extremity may swell and fever may occur. Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) is more dangerous than superficial thrombophlebitis. Deep venous thrombosis often cannot be seen or felt by the individual although it can cause symptoms. Swelling of the extremity or fever may alert a person to the presence of a DVT, especially if risk factors for DVT exist. Pulmonary embolism (PE), a condition that can be fatal, results from a DVT that becomes loose in the venous system and travels to the lungs. There it blocks proper blood flow to the lungs and decreases oxygen levels in the body. The August 10, 2005, issue of JAMA includes an article about anticoagulation (blood thinning) treatment for DVT and PE.

Risk factors

  • Inactivity due to recent injury, surgery, or prolonged sitting

  • Pregnancy or recent childbirth

  • Oral contraceptive and estrogen therapy

  • Cancer

  • Stroke or other diseases that limit movement

  • Family history of clotting disorders

  • Central venous catheters (used for injection of medications or for dialysis)


In addition to a medical history and physical examination, the doctor may order tests to evaluate superficial thrombophlebitis or to look for presence of a DVT. These tests may include ultrasound (using sound waves to look for a blood clot in the vein), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize blood vessels, or venography (using injection of a dye to trace to the course of a vein).


  • Move your legs, especially during prolonged sitting or bed rest

  • Use compression (strong support) stockings

  • Discuss your personal and family history with your doctor before considering hormone therapy


Treatment for superficial thrombophlebitis usually includes elevating the leg, warm compresses to the area, and medication to decrease pain and inflammation. Support stockings may be worn to reduce swelling. Treatment for DVT or PE usually involves anticoagulation treatment with heparin (by injection) or warfarin (by mouth for longer-term treatment). Pregnant women should not use warfarin because it can harm the developing fetus.

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. Patient Pages on pulmonary embolism were published in the December 3, 2003, and the February 14, 2001, issues.

Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.