Reviewed by Brian R. Robinson, MD
Phlebitis, or inflammation of the veins, is caused by infection or injury. Two types of phlebitis can occur. The more common one is inflammation of the superficial or surface veins of the legs; the other type involves inflammation of the deep veins of the legs (the conditions may also occur in the arm).
This condition results when blood circulation in the veins slows down or in blood that clots easily. Phlebitis can also result from vein injury in those with impaired circulation. It can develop following varicose veins damage in the legs. Prolonged use of an intravenous needle, particularly during illegal drug use, can also cause vein injury.
In addition to causing pain and discomfort in affected areas, phlebitis can also increase the chances of clot formation and result in a pulmonary embolism. Phlebitis in the deep veins can result in deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Risk factors for developing phlebitis include prolonged inactivity, smoking, obesity, injury to the affected extremity, pregnancy, varicose veins, and certain cancers like pancreatic cancer, breast and ovarian cancers.