For many people in the United States, June doesn’t just herald the arrival of longer days and warm summer weather — it marks the official start of the travel season. But if you’re living with the ongoing effects of swollen, painful varicose veins, the very thought of sitting still in a car or airplane for hours on end may make your legs feel even heavier and achier. 

You may even find yourself wondering if long-distance car or air travel is safe when you have inflamed varicose veins and leg pain. Here, our skilled team of vascular experts at Somerset Surgical Associates, LLC discuss the potential risks of traveling with symptomatic varicose veins, and offer strategies to help you stay safe if you plan to venture to faraway places this summer.     

Understanding varicose vein formation

Veins become varicose when their internal one-way valves weaken or become dysfunctional, hindering the efficient flow of blood from your body back to your heart. As blood repeatedly pools behind these damaged vein valves, it exerts pressure on the surrounding vessel wall that causes it to swell, stretch, twist, and contort — or become varicose. 

Over one in three adults in the United States has varicose veins. While they’re most common in women and older adults, female gender and advancing age aren’t the only varicose vein risk factors. You’re also more likely to get them if you:

  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have a family history of varicose veins 
  • Are pregnant or have had children
  • Have a job that keeps you on your feet
  • Spend long stretches of time seated

Leg veins are most likely to become varicose, simply because they’re under more pressure as they work against gravity to keep blood flowing to your heart. 

When varicose veins are symptomatic

The average varicose vein isn’t harmful, and doesn’t — by itself — constitute a health threat. Even so, varicose veins can become problematic as time goes by, causing irritating symptoms and signaling the arrival of more serious circulatory concerns. 

 Painful varicose veins may be a sign of inflammation brought on by elevated pressure in your veins, or fluid buildup around areas of sluggish blood flow. Signs of worsening vein problems that call for prompt evaluation include leg pain or heaviness, leg swelling, and skin changes. 

Varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis

Having varicose veins — even ones that don’t cause bothersome symptoms — increases your risk of developing a serious form of peripheral vascular disease known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or a blood clot that forms in a deep, subsurface vein. 

 Such clots aren’t harmful if they remain in place, but they can be life-threatening if they break free and travel to your lungs, where they can cause a deadly pulmonary embolism (PE) that requires immediate emergency medical treatment.  

Protecting against DVT when you travel

A recent study shows that people with varicose veins are about five times more likely to develop DVT compared to people without abnormal varicosities. This risk is heightened by long-distance travel, which itself is a significant DVT risk factor for anyone. 

 Any long-distance trip — whether you’re traveling by plane, car, bus, or train — that keeps you seated in a confined space for longer than four hours heightens your risk of developing a blood clot in a deep vein. 

Your DVT risk during long-distance travel is higher than average if you have another major DVT risk factor, including varicose veins. Other factors that compound travel-associated DVT risk include: 

  • Older age (risk increases at age 40)
  • Excess body weight (obesity)
  • Pregnancy (up to three months postpartum)
  • Recent surgery (within three months)
  • Having a family history of blood clots 
  • Use of estrogen-containing contraception 
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy  Fortunately, there are ways to protect against DVT and make your travels safer. To start with, make it a priority to stand up and take walking or stretching breaks at least once every two hours when you’re traveling by plane, car, or train. And when you can’t get up for long periods, actively stretch your legs and exercise your calf muscles to boost your circulation.  

Address painful varicose veins today 

Remember, the more risk factors you have for DVT, the more important it is to talk with our experts about taking extra precautions before you travel. You may benefit from taking blood thinners, wearing compression stockings, and treating painful varicose veins. 

Getting rid of problematic varicose veins reduces your DVT risk as it alleviates bothersome symptoms and improves the appearance of your skin. It’s a win-win. To learn more about the varicose vein treatment solutions at Somerset Surgical Associates, LLC in Somerville and Hillsborough, New Jersey, call or click online to schedule a visit today.

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