Varicose Veins and Long-Haul Travel – Know the Risks

September 26, 2019
September 26, 2019 Dr Zil

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.

Keep Well Hydrated.

High-altitude flying tends to dehydrate you, make sure to 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 a pill to help you sleep, both hinder your circulation and in turn 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.

Even if you don’t have visible varicose veins but know that you are at increased risk, because they run in the family, 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 trip and are concerned about varicose veins, call us on (1300) 535-017 to book a consultation.  Assessments are painless, non-invasive, and only take 30 minutes. 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”