October 12, 2022
Ah, travelling, how we miss you! With the end of lockdown now just within our sights, many of us are counting the days until we’re able to hop on a plane again.
Unfortunately, air travel does come with its risks - particularly for people with untreated varicose veins. If you’re planning a getaway in the near future, it’s important to know what those risks are and what you can do to minimise them. Whether you’re a long-term sufferer or your vein health has taken a hit in lockdown, here are the things you need to know.
Is it Dangerous to Travel with Varicose Veins?
The truth is that travel can affect your vein health; people with varicose veins are generally advised to favour shorter journeys where possible, and keep long-haul flights to a minimum.
When travelling long distances, veins can become irritated and more swollen. The most extreme risk is developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in the body, usually the legs. While DVT is not the same as varicose veins, which occur near the surface of the skin, research has shown that individuals with varicose veins are much more likely to develop DVT.
Other people who are at higher risk of developing DVT during long-haul flights are pregnant women, people taking oestrogen (birth control pills or HRT) and individuals over the age of 50.
The good news for varicose vein sufferers is that they aren’t at a higher risk than any of these demographics. So while exercising caution is important, let’s look at the things you can (and should!) do to make your flight as comfortable and safe as possible.
Talk to Your Doctor Before Flying
If you’re concerned about whether you’re well enough to fly, or worried about the risk of developing DVT, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional before you go. They’ll be able to give you specific advice tailored to your needs and advise you on how safe it is for you to travel. If necessary, they may wish to prescribe you a blood thinning medication.
Choose Your Seat (If Possible)
If you can, be strategic about where you sit. The very front row or the one by the emergency exit will usually give you more space to stretch out your legs. Many airlines are accommodating to people who need these seats for various reasons, so it’s worth dropping them an email or giving them a call.
If those seats aren’t available, the next best strategy is to opt for an aisle seat. This will allow you to stretch out your legs (just not when the drinks trolley is coming through!).
If you can afford it, we highly recommend booking Business or First Class, where you’ll be able to stretch out your legs without any concerns.
Dress for Comfort, Not Style
Before you set off, pick your outfit carefully. Choose comfortable, loose fitting clothing. The important thing here is that your clothes aren’t cutting off or limiting your circulation in any areas of the body.
Plus, five hours into a flight, no-one cares about whether or not they’re looking glam. You’ll be far happier in something that will keep you cosy and relaxed.
Don’t Forget Your Compression Socks
Wearing your compression socks is essential; in fact, they’re recommended for everyone on long flights, regardless of whether or not they are high-risk for developing DVT. As well as reducing that risk, they also minimise the post-flight swelling that many people suffer from.
Another thing you may want to consider packing is a travel leg elevation pillow. These are often inflatable, so they can easily fit inside your bag. While you may not be able to use it on the flight, it will be great for when you get to the hotel or while you’re reading a book by the pool.
Do Mini Exercises
It’s often thought that when it comes to flying, high altitude and cabin pressure are the main factors that may aggravate varicose vein symptoms. A study published by the World Health Organisation found that lack of movement, however, is the main danger. The good news is that you can do something about this by moving as much as possible during your flight.
Every now and then, rotate your ankles while you’re in your seat. This tiny movement will help keep the blood flowing and can make a big difference. During a quiet moment when it’s safe to leave your seat, do a few standing calf raises next to your seat. This is a subtle exercise that involves standing on your tiptoes and then slowly lowering your feet back down to the floor.
Schedule a break each hour to walk up and down the aisle - even a minute or two of walking will be great for your legs.
Stay Hydrated and Avoid Alcohol
When you’re flying, drinking water is more important than ever, as staying hydrated improves blood flow. Bring a couple of bottles of water with you, in case the flight attendants can’t come around at any point due to turbulence. We know that alcohol is dehydrating, so avoid it at all costs while in the air!
One of the best things you can do to improve your vein health before going away is by seeking out a minimally-invasive treatment. These are straightforward procedures that require little to no down time, and you will be able to travel in as little as four weeks after the procedure.
Remember: although it should be taken seriously, the risk of developing a blood clot is low, so as long as you stick to these tips, you can relax and enjoy your journey and well-deserved break!
Take our two-minute diagnostic test to see if you could benefit from varicose vein treatment.
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