Should Holiday Travel Worry You about Your Veins?


The holiday season is upon us.  And for many, that means travel, often in cramped quarters.  Should this worry you about your veins on long trips?

It is true that some people experience vein problems on long trips.  There is a risk of vein problems like Deep Venous thrombosis (DVT) and superficial vein thrombophlebitis (SVT) for patients who travel long distance.  For patients airplane passengers this has been called the ‘economy-class syndrome’ and has received a lot of attention in newspapers and on television over the years.

Venous thrombosis is a blood clot that develops in a vein in the leg.  When it is a deep vein, its called DVT.   DVT itself is not life-threatening but can sometimes lead to a serious condition known as pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism occurs when the blood clot breaks up and moves to the lungs, where it can stop the blood from flowing normally. When the clot is in the superficial veins, it’s called SVT.  SVT usually occurs in varicose veins, but can also happen in normal veins.

Sometimes legs hurt simply from venous insufficiency, a condition whereby blood pools in the legs due to faulty vein valves.  (this is the condition that commonly leads to varicose veins).  People with varicose veins can have painful leg swelling on long trips, even if they don’t develop a clot.

A long journey may increase your risk of thrombosis (SVT or DVT) or leg pain from varicose veins simply because you are sitting still for a long time. This is not specific to planes, but can happen on car and train trips as well.  Leg veins need movement to prevent clots. Sitting for long periods of times increase the risk of these problems.

If you are at high risk for vein problems and need information about specific risks and options, see your doctor to discuss your situation.  But for most, simple methods to reduce the risk of leg vein problems when traveling include wearing a pair of quality compression hose, staying well hydrated on the plane, performing leg exercises while sitting, and walking the aisle every few hours to keep your leg moving.  Of course, once you arrive, if you have any signs of symptoms of a DVT or SVT, such as leg pain, swelling, redness, or hard lumps under the skin from clotted veins, seek medical attention promptly.

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