Varicose Veins and Long-Haul Travel – Risks and Advice

September 26, 2019
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September 26, 2019 The Vein Institute

Australians love to travel, in 2018 alone over 10.5 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 haul 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.

People with varicose veins are at a higher risk as they are a 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” but is it something you should be worried about?

Is “Economy Class Syndrome” a Real Thing?

Economy class syndrome is a term used to describe the development of DVT after long haul travel in cramped conditions.

It is the lack of mobility 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. This is particularly relevant if you are already at risk for clots due to a pre-existing medical condition such as varicose veins, 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 Planning Long Haul Travel

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. Here are some tips to help reduce your risks:

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.

Wiggle your toes and lift your legs up and down frequently to keep your circulation moving.

Avoid sitting too long in one position or with your legs crossed. Another tip is to massage your calf muscles periodically to increase the blood circulation in your legs. (Find out more: 7 exercises to keep your legs healthy while travelling)

Keep Well Hydrated.

Poor blood circulation coupled with high-altitude, pressurised cabin air can be very bad news if you’re prone to vein disease or want to prevent it. Make sure to bring along a bottle of water and sip from it often.

Staying well-hydrated will help stabilise your blood pressure and flow.

Avoid Alcohol and Sleeping Tablets.

However tempting it may be to have a few drinks or take a pill to help you sleep, both hinder your circulation and in turn increase your DVT risk. Also, avoid consuming coffee as it can be extremely dehydrating.

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.

These special garments are designed to make you more comfortable during your flight by applying gentle pressure on your lower legs. This is done in a strategic way to promote circulation and prevent blood from pooling or refluxing.

Keep in mind that it’s very important to wear your compression garments correctly. Poorly fitted stockings could further increase your risk of developing complications such as DVT. (Find out more: non-medical options for managing varicose veins)

If You Have Varicose Veins, Have them Assessed.

Seek Expert Advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;

Walk-in walk-out treatment

  • 98% success rate
  • Extremely effective
  • Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
  • No general anaesthetic
  • Medicare rebates apply
  • No downtime or time away from work

To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call 1300 535 017.