With the holiday season getting into full swing, many of us will be traveling to go see loved ones. Whether you are sitting in a car or an airplane for long periods of time, travel can set up the perfect storm to form a blood clot (deep venous thrombosis) in your legs. Deep venous thrombosis (DVT) risk increases with sitting for long periods of time because the leg muscles are not pumping the blood out or your legs. When there is no pumping, the blood sits stagnant and therefore is more likely to clot. This article presents general precautions to avoid developing a DVT when traveling but should not be interpreted as a doctor’s orders. Always visit your specialist physician to discuss your particular health concerns.
Always consult your vein care physician for the appropriate fit and instructions for any compression wear. Wearing compression stockings can help reduce your risk of DVT by increasing circulation. An added bonus of wearing stockings on your long trips is that they will help reduce swelling that may develop with long hours of sitting. Please visit a reputable compression wear specialist who can safely get you into the right size to maximize comfort and effectiveness. However, consult with your healthcare provider before wearing them. Patients with arterial peripheral vascular disease should not wear compression stockings. You can also risk harm if you self-prescribe your own compression stockings by buying compression wear online or other retail sources without the custom fit recommended by your vein care specialist. Most varicose vein providers carry and fit updated compression wear.
Start hydrating a few days before your trip. Usually the day that you are traveling, you are running around and might forget to drink your fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they act as a diuretic (dehydrates you more). Packing an empty water bottle in your carry-on-bag will make it easier to hydrate once you get through security at the airport and board your flight.
Smoking is a factor for increasing your risk of DVT. Smoking causes an inflammatory response that makes the blood “sticky” and irritates the inner lining of the blood vessels.
Get Up and Walk/Calf Exercise
Stopping to get out of your car and taking a short walk will help use the muscle pump in your legs. Also, going up and down on your toes (calf pumps) will help while on a long road trip.
If you are on a flight, you can exercise while sitting in your seat. You can flex your foot toward and away, holding for a few seconds on each end. If you can stand, you can also do calf pumps. It is recommended to do these exercises every 30 minutes to increase circulation. While on a very long flight, it is best to avoid taking sleeping medication, as you may sleep too long and not move which can increase your risk for DVT.
Take Prescribed Blood-Thinning Medication
If you take a blood-thinning medication, continue taking it as prescribed by your provider and pack it in your carry-on bag in case of delays/canceled flights.
Get Evaluated if you have Large Varicose Veins
Large varicose veins are a risk factor for developing a DVT. In fact, anyone with varicose veins should be evaluated because they have stagnant flow. Varicose veins are part of the superficial venous system but have connections to the deep system (where it is most dangerous to have a blood clot). Large varicose veins have stagnant flow in them because the blood pools and does not get efficiently pumped back up to the heart. Once a superficial vein clots, it can continue to grow into the deep system and cause a DVT. Again, be sure to consult a board-certified Phlebologist to assess your risk and give you medical advice on DVT prevention and varicose vein treatment.
Once you arrive at your destination, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms like leg pain, swelling, tightness, redness or cramping or any other unusual discomfort, please seek immediate medical attention. Having a DVT in your leg is not something you want to wait for treatment as it can travel from the leg to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolus (a blood clot in your lungs). For more information on the prevention of a DVT, please contact your board-certified Phlebologist who specializes in superficial vein disease, its evaluation, care, and prevention.