Cephalic vein thrombosis is a blood clot in the cephalic vein in the arm. It occurs when something affects the vein’s blood flow to the heart. The condition generally resolves by itself but can become more serious if the blood clot progresses.

Cephalic vein thrombosis is a form of superficial vein thrombosis (SVT). SVT is a blood clot in the superficial veins close to the skin’s surface.

The cephalic vein is a superficial vein and the longest vein in the arm. It runs from the hand up to the shoulder.

This article looks at the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and outlook of cephalic vein thrombosis.

A healthcare professional using a vascular ultrasound device to diagnose cephalic vein thrombosis in the arm -1Share on Pinterest
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Symptoms of cephalic vein thrombosis may affect the area where the blood clot in the arm occurs and may include:

  • swelling, often a cord-like mass or swelling running along the affected vein
  • redness
  • pain or tenderness
  • warmth or heat to the skin
  • skin discoloration
  • tension in the arm, which may affect range of motion

Read more about the symptoms of a blood clot.

Cephalic vein thrombosis can occur if something affects the vein’s ability to transport blood to the heart. It may occur due to trauma to the arm, prolonged immobility, or a health condition that causes abnormal blood clotting.

Injury to cells in the lining of the blood vessel can cause an inflammatory response, which causes blood cells to join together and clot.

Certain factors that may increase the risk of developing cephalic vein thrombosis include:

Learn about how thick blood increases blood clot risk.

To diagnose cephalic vein thrombosis, a doctor will perform a physical examination and assess symptoms.

Doctors may use vascular ultrasound — a scan that uses sound waves to provide images of soft tissues in the body.

A vascular ultrasound can show doctors if there are any issues with the blood vessels and if a blood clot is present. It can also help rule out more serious conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

A doctor will discuss the steps people need to take, such as removing any jewelry before the scan.

According to a 2020 case report, prompt treatment of cephalic vein thrombosis may help prevent complications, such as lasting skin discoloration, infections, or progression to a more serious condition, such as DVT.

In most cases, cephalic vein thrombosis may resolve by itself, and treatments can help ease symptoms.

Treatment for cephalic vein thrombosis may include the following:

If people have a large blood clot, severe symptoms, or an increased risk of a blood clot reaching the deep veins, they may require additional treatment to help prevent complications.

In these cases, a doctor may also prescribe an anticoagulant or blood thinner, which is a medication that helps reduce and prevent blood clots.

If blood thinning medication is ineffective, people may require a thrombectomy, which is surgery to remove the blood clot from the vein.

Understanding the risk factors for cephalic vein thrombosis can help people reduce their risk and help prevent the condition.

In people with an increased risk of blood clots, wearing compression garments, such as a compression sleeve for the arm, may help.

If people have surgery on the arm and a doctor thinks there may be a risk of blood clots, they may prescribe blood thinners as a precaution before and after surgery.

Other tips for preventing blood clots include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding long periods of inactivity and getting plenty of movement
  • avoiding smoking

Cephalic vein thrombosis is a type of SVT, which generally resolves by itself and is not harmful.

However, other cases of SVT can be more dangerous and may link to DVT. DVT is a serious condition that can lead to pulmonary embolism, which can be life threatening.

People with SVT may have an increased risk of recurrent blood clots in the veins and an increased risk of DVT or pulmonary embolism by 4–6 times across their lifetime.

Cephalic vein thrombosis may be more serious if the blood clot affects veins near the axillary vein, a deep vein in the upper arm, as this can be similar to DVT.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of cephalic vein thrombosis may help resolve the condition and prevent the blood clot from progressing to a more serious issue. Treatment can also help prevent infections or lasting skin discoloration. Overall, the outlook is positive for those with SVT who receive treatment.

Cephalic vein thrombosis is a blood clot in the cephalic vein — a long vein in the arm running from the hand to the shoulder area.

Cephalic vein thrombosis may cause swelling, redness, pain, or heat in the arm area. If people have symptoms of a blood clot in the arm, they can consult a doctor for diagnosis.

The condition may resolve by itself, and treatments can help ease symptoms. This may include a warm compress, elevation, anti-inflammatory medications, and a compression sleeve.

Cephalic vein thrombosis is generally not serious, but it may link to more dangerous conditions, such as DVT.

A doctor can check for any underlying issues affecting vein health to help people understand their risk factors and prevent further problems.