How to prevent blood clots while traveling
More than 33 million adults in the United States have varicose veins. These twisted, bulging veins are most often found on the legs. Many people are unaware that varicose veins are caused by a common health condition: venous insufficiency, also known as vein disease.
While some people do not experience symptoms of vein disease, others struggle with chronic pain and discomfort, along with visible veins. These symptoms can worsen when sitting for long periods of time, such as while traveling by plane or car. Traveling can also place you at increased risk for developing dangerous blood clots in the leg.
Blood clots tend to develop while traveling as a result of poor circulation from sitting for hours. If you have varicose veins, it’s important to be mindful of any potential risks and to understand what steps to take to prevent blood clots while traveling.
If you have upcoming trips that involve traveling, the vein specialists at USA Vein Clinics are available to provide personalized recommendations on varicose veins and flying, or varicose veins and driving. Below, we provide some general advice on how to avoid blood clots when flying or driving.
Varicose Veins Increase Your Risk of Blood Clots When Traveling
The risk of developing blood clots increases when you travel, especially if you are sitting or standing still for an extended amount of time. Blood clots occur when blood thickens and clumps together or when a blood vessel is damaged. Varicose veins increase the risk of developing blood clots because the vein walls can no longer provide support to the vessels, and this increases the likelihood that a clot can form.
In some cases, a serious type of blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can occur.
This is when a blood clot develops in one of the body’s deep veins. When left untreated, DVT can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition. DVT is often referred to as a “silent condition” because some people may experience no symptoms, or they may feel leg pain, swelling, discoloration, cramping, or warmth in the affected area.
Common signs of DVT include:
- Leg pain
- Redness or skin discoloration
- Cramping in the calf
Common symptoms of pulmonary embolism include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
If you notice any of these issues, seek urgent medical care.
The longer you are immobile, the greater your risk of developing DVT.
Additional DVT risk factors include age, genetics, obesity, smoking, poor diet, and pregnancy. If you are concerned about driving or flying with varicose veins, it may be beneficial to consult a vein specialist.
How to Avoid Blood Clots When Flying
Understanding blood clots can help you avoid them. There are also some additional ways to lower your varicose veins flying risk.
To prevent blood clots while traveling, try the following:
- Wear compression stockings: Wearing compression socks while flying with varicose veins is a great way to boost blood flow. Not only can this help prevent blood clots while traveling, but it can also alleviate venous symptoms like leg swelling and cramping.
- Don’t wear restrictive clothing: If you have varicose veins and flying is a concern, wear loose garments and comfortable footwear. Tight clothing and shoes can place additional pressure on your veins, further elevating the risk of blood clots.
- Move around: Before your flight and during layovers, take a walk around the airport to help prevent blood clots while traveling. Then, when safe to do so during your flight, get up to stretch and walk up and down the aisles. If stuck in your seat, try pointing and flexing your feet and rolling your ankles to increase blood circulation. You can also massage your legs, ankles, and feet.
- Drink water: When asked how to avoid blood clots when flying, our experts often remind patients to drink plenty of fluids. Staying well-hydrated keeps vein walls from narrowing, along with regulating blood pressure.
- Elevate: Although this may not be an option on a full flight, elevating your legs can reduce your varicose veins flying risk. This is because when you elevate your legs, less pressure is placed on your veins.
- Avoid alcohol: Among other issues, alcohol is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration. This forces the body to work harder to circulate blood, which may be dangerous when flying with varicose veins.
If you have varicose veins, are predisposed to blood clots, or recently had vein treatment, make sure your doctor knows that you are planning a trip to fly with varicose veins. They can provide personalized recommendations on how to prevent blood clots while traveling.
How to Avoid Blood Clots While Driving
Similar to flying with varicose veins, there are plenty of things that you can do to prevent blood clots while traveling by car.
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If you have varicose veins and driving plans, our vein specialists suggest:
- Do some sightseeing: Break up long drives with some physical activity. Plan to stop every few hours to go on a short hike, play Frisbee at a rest stop, or even take the stairs at a shopping center to encourage circulation, as well as reduce blood clot risks.
- Change your position: With varicose veins and driving, the risk of developing blood clots comes from sitting in one position. Change your posture, your sitting position, and even your seat altogether as often as possible throughout the drive to help prevent blood clots while traveling.
- Stretch: Roll your ankles, flex your feet, wiggle your toes, and extend your legs to promote healthy circulation.
- Recline and elevate: Recline your passenger seat and elevate your legs on and off for 15 minutes every hour.
- Watch your diet: Try to avoid fast food en route. While the drive-thru may be convenient, foods high in sodium, fat, and cholesterol can take their toll on your veins. Instead, pack a cooler full of healthy options like fresh fruits and vegetables, along with sandwiches made from lean proteins or nut butter on whole-grain bread.
- Keep cool: Hot weather can cause leg pain and other vein symptoms to worsen. Keep cool and remember to drink water. Wear light clothing, blast the A/C, or roll down the windows.
To prevent blood clots while traveling with varicose veins, you may benefit from minimally invasive, outpatient vein treatment.
We understand that traveling can be stressful, especially when it comes to learning how to avoid blood clots when flying or driving. Although our tips can help prevent blood clots while traveling, it is important to understand that they do not treat vein disease, the underlying cause of varicose veins.
If you have an upcoming trip planned, we want you to know that vein treatment can reduce your varicose veins flying risk, ease painful venous symptoms, and improve the safety and quality of your travels. You may also benefit from following a healthier lifestyle. This may include losing weight, exercising more, improving your diet, or quitting smoking.
At USA Vein Clinics, our vein specialists offer a range of minimally invasive, office-based vein treatments for varicose veins, spider veins, and other venous issues. Most of our treatments can be performed in less than an hour, from start to finish. You can leave immediately afterward and return to most normal activities.
We provide non-surgical vein treatment at over 100 locations nationwide. You can even choose to schedule a convenient virtual visit with one of our highly experienced specialists.
Medically Reviewed by:
Dr. Yan Katsnelson, M.D.
Dr. Yan Katsnelson is the founder and CEO of USA Vein Clinics. Dr. Katsnelson is a highly skilled cardiac surgeon who completed a fellowship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard School of Medicine, in Boston, MA. His clinical area of expertise includes minimally invasive procedures to treat vein and vascular diseases. Dr. Katsnelson has established himself as a strong advocate for accessible, affordable, and compassionate healthcare services. He spoke about the potential impact of COVID-19 on blood clots and vein health in a recent publication.