Varicose Veins And Deep Vein Thrombosis - Reducing Risks During Air Travel

Posted on: 30 July 2015


If you have varicose veins, then you may be at risk of forming deep vein thrombosis. This condition occurs when blood clots build in the deep veins that line the muscles of the legs. The blood clots can dislodge from the veins and move to the heart or brain and cause a heart attack or a stroke. You may be careful to wear compression stockings and to avoid cigarette smoke to keep the clots from building. However, if you travel a lot by plane, then you are probably placing yourself at a greater risk of forming deep vein thrombosis without knowing it. Airplane travel forces you to stay inactive in a small seat for hours at a time and this can cause clots to form. You can prevent deep vein thrombosis during your next flight with the following tips.

Consider a Mild Blood Thinner

Many people who are at risk of forming blood clots will be placed on blood thinner medications. These individuals are often asked to take anticoagulant drugs like Heparin to keep the blood from clotting as quickly as it normally would. However, anticoagulants often cannot be taken with a variety of other medications and they can cause bleeding complications. For some with mild clotting risks, like a person with varicose veins, it may not be worth the risk to take anticoagulants all the time. In cases where clots are likely to form, then it is wise to take a different type of blood thinner called an anti-platelet medication. One of the most common of these medications is aspirin and it keeps the platelets in the blood from forming clumps and stopping the flow of blood through the veins. 

It is wise to take aspirin before a long flight if your doctor allows this. A baby aspirin may be enough to prevent clots from forming, or you can take a regular strength aspirin. Make sure to consult with your general doctor or with a varicose vein specialist to see which dose is right for you.

Exercise Your Legs

Your doctor has likely informed you that varicose veins and deeper clots are likely to form if you stand or sit for too long. When you do this, blood may start to pool in the weak veins due to the decrease in body movement. Gravity also takes hold of the blood that sits below the heart and keeps it from moving upward through the veins. Blood that stops moving or pools is far more likely to clot than blood that is able to flow freely through the blood vessels.

Unfortunately, most airline flights leave you with a very limited amount of space and you will probably need to stay seated and still for the majority of the flight. You should take advantage of the times when you can move around the cabin though. Usually, the seatbelt light will be turned off when the plane reaches cruising altitude at over 10,000 feet and you can begin to move around. Once the light is turned off, take the opportunity to walk up and down the middle aisle of the plane two or three times. You should do this a few times during the flight. Just make sure not to wait to get up until the last 30 to 45 minutes of the flight. Most of the time, the seatbelt light will be put back on for the final descent and sometimes sooner.

Seated Exercises

In the case that you are unable to get up at all during the flight due to extreme turbulence situations or other issues, then you will need to exercise your legs at your seat. One of the best exercises is called a calf pump and it involves you rocking your feet back and forth. Start by placing your feet on the ground and lift your ankles and push down on the toes or the balls of the feet. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then rock your feet backward onto your heels and hold for another 10 seconds. Complete this exercise for 10 minutes. 

You also can try picking up your knees to your chest for several seconds at a time if you have room. This will help to bring the legs higher and closer to the heart so the blood can move naturally through the blood vessels. 

Click here for more information about dealing with varicose veins.