Varicose veins and long-haul travel – do you know the risks?
Australians love to travel, in 2016 alone over 9.7 million intrepid travellers left our shores to explore the globe. And given the long distances that separate Australia from other countries, most of these travellers face long travel times, during which they will be sitting immobile in possibly cramped seats.
Today’s smaller seats are an uncomfortable situation for every traveller, but it can be an actual health risk if you have varicose veins. All of this sitting is an increased risk factor for DVT – deep vein thrombosis – a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of the legs and more so for people with varicose veins which is an independent risk factor for DVT. The blood clots can cause cramping in the legs and other symptoms, but the real danger is that they might break loose and travel through the veins to the lungs, where they can cause a pulmonary embolism. You may have even seen articles talking about the risks of “economy class syndrome.”
Is “economy class syndrome” a real thing?
Economy class syndrome is a term used to described the development of DVT after long-haul travel in cramped conditions. It is the immobility that is the issue not the class of carriage. If you’re not moving, neither is your blood, which can cause blood clots to form, especially if you are already at risk for clots because you have varicose veins, a pre-existing medical condition such as obesity, recent surgery, or are dehydrated. The suspected reason that varicose veins increase your risk of DVT is that blood flow in these veins is the opposite of a healthy vein, resulting in turbulent blood flow.
Things you can do to reduce your DVT risk while travelling if you have varicose veins.
First, don’t be afraid to travel. Short, 2-3 hour flights should not be a problem, but a 12-hour flight can be, especially if you are sitting motionless the whole time, so pay attention to the following tips.
- Walk around as much as possible. To reduce your DVT risk, you can take “mini-breaks” by standing up and walking in the aisles of the aeroplane every couple of hours.
- Keep well hydrated. High-altitude flying tends to dehydrate you anyway, so bring along a bottle of water and sip from it often.
- Avoid alcohol and sleeping tablets. However tempting it may be to have a few drinks or take some pills to help you sleep, both hinder your circulation and thus increase your DVT risk.
- Wear compression stockings. Your vein doctor or local pharmacist can recommend medical-grade compression stockings to wear during your flight. These stockings put gentle pressure on the leg muscles and improve circulation.
- If you have varicose veins, have them assessed. And even if you don’t have visible varicose veins but know that you are at increased risk of them because your parents or grandparents had them, see your vein doctor and get an examination.
For our patients at The Vein Institute, we can’t emphasise the last tip strongly enough. If you are planning a long journey and have large varicose veins, give us a call at 1300 535 017 to set up an appointment for an assessment. These evaluations are painless, non-invasive, and only take 30 minutes, but they can help to ensure that your journey is a safe one.
For more information on varicose veins download our free e-book “All you need to know about Varicose Veins in 10 minutes”