Superficial vein thrombophlebitis—serious concern or much ado about little?

W Blättler, B Schwarzenbach, J Largiadèr
VASA. Zeitschrift Für Gefässkrankheiten 2008, 37 (1): 31-8
Superficial vein thrombophlebitis (SVTP) appears in two distinct forms: varicose vein thrombophlebitis (TP) represents the principal cause. It is characterized by a large thrombus in a varicose vein and a modest inflammatory process localized in the vessel surrounding but not in its wall. Rarely, SVTP affects a non-varicose vein. Abundant intima proliferation and media fibrosis with non-important thrombosis are the hallmark of this form which may be associated with a systemic disease. Although SVTP is perceived as trivial and benign coexistence of (mostly distal) deep venous thrombosis (DVT), propagation to popliteal or femoral DVT, and even pulmonary embolism (PE) have been reported. Data for prevalence vary greatly: 6-53% for coexistence, 2.6-15% for propagation, and 0-33% for (asymptomatic) PE. Risk factors for these complications are those known for DVT. SVTP is diagnosed in a clinical setting but ultrasonography is useful to check for concomitant DVT. Anticoagulant treatment is mandatory if DVT is present and thrombectomy should be considered in cases of thrombus propagation into the deep veins. Historical therapy of uncomplicated SVTP consists of compression with bandages or stockings and local or systemic anti-inflammatory agents. Low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) has been given in high-prophylactic doses and found equally effective when compared with anti-inflammatory agents and full-therapeutic dose LMWH. Prophylactic saphenous vein ligation alone was found less effective than conservative therapy. Ligation combined with stripping proved the potential of eliminating at once all problems associated with SVTP but was associated with a complication rate of 10% or higher. Careful patient selection and saphenous vein thrombectomy prior to stripping may be the clue for better results.

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