11.30.15 Dr. Garth Rosenberg Swelling

Varicose Veins and Flying - Reduce the Risk

The holiday season is upon us, and air travel is frequent. A couple of patients in my Winchester, Virginia office asked me recently about the risk of leg blood clots during long distance flights. One had a friend with varicose veins who developed a DVT (deep vein clot) after a cross country flight recently.

DVTs originate in the deep veins in the leg, down near the bone, and carry a risk of clot detachment with movement to the heart or lungs. This event can be quite serious, or even fatal if the clot is large. On the other hand, surface blood clots (phlebitis), while not totally risk-free, do not usually carry the same potential for poor health outcome.

A known risk factor for the development of DVT is prolonged sitting, especially in a tight, cramped position. Patients with varicose veins have an elevated risk as well as do patients on certain medications such as birth control pills.

Venous blood flow in the legs begins near the foot and ascends the leg toward the groin, against gravity. Prolonged sitting reduces the ability of the leg muscles to pump the blood up the leg, thus increasing the risk of slow flow and blood clots. Increasing the flow in the veins by exercising, which in a confined airplane means walking every few hours, or at least doing foot exercises while sitting is beneficial. We know that the use of medical support socks can reduce the risk of clot formation, and we strongly recommend that passengers on long flights use these garments, even if the passengers have a low risk of blood clots.

While the stockings do not guarantee you won’t form a clot, they do help reduce your risk. If you have new leg pain or swelling even after using the stockings, be sure to seek medical advice so that serious problems can be avoided or diagnosed and treated.

Patients with symptomatic varicose veins may benefit from addressing this problem both to reduce the heavy, achy, tired legs, as well as to reduce the stasis and clot potential that these veins carry.

Dr. McNeill and Dr. Rosenberg are happy to discuss this further with you at any of the practice's six offices in Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia.
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