Traveling with Vascular Disease

Posted: November 1, 2020 | Revised: November 1, 2020

As the holiday season approaches, we’re often asked if it is safe to travel with a vascular disease or condition. The short answer is generally, yes. However, like most things about vascular and vein disorders, the conclusion is anything but straightforward. It all depends on an individual’s course of treatment, mode of transportation and, of course, clearance from the doctor. At the same time, you’ll need to know what to pay close attention to in the days ahead of a final decision, especially for key takeaways and future reference.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

When it comes to travel-associated vascular complications, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) should be top of mind. This occurs when a blood clot forms in one or more deep veins, such as in the leg. It results in pain, swelling or a blockage of blood flow, particularly if the blood clot breaks loose and travels into the lungs.

Unlike arteries, the flow of blood into the veins is significantly impacted by the muscular contractions in your legs. The more you walk, move and work your leg muscles, the greater the rate of blood flow in your lower extremity veins. When you are traveling and sedentary for long periods, the blood in your legs is stagnant and, like sediment drifting to the bottom of a dammed river, can form clots. These clots can be dangerous and can travel to your lungs, causing Pulmonary Embolism. This can be very serious, even fatal. 

Symptoms of DVT

Pay close attention to pain in and/or red or discolored skin on one leg. That same leg may also feel warm and particularly swollen. Be on the lookout for signs or symptoms of a pulmonary embolism as well. Symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, deep-breath-worsening chest pain or discomfort, fainting or feel faint, a rapid pulse or coughing up blood.

Since not all DVT cases are alike, some people may experience none of the above symptoms. But if you’re at risk, consult with your doctor before taking flight or hitting the road.

DVT Risk Factors

If you’ve ever experienced a vein injury, suffered limited mobility or taken DVT-causing medications (like birth control and other oral contraceptives as well as hormone replacement therapy), you’ll want to take extra precautions. Further to that, take your and your family’s medical history into consideration: cancer, heart failure, inflammatory bowel diseases and other blood-clotting conditions. Then, take your age and child-bearing status into account. Those over 60 and women who are pregnant as well as six-weeks postpartum have increased vein pressure.

Travel Recommendations

Right off the bat, we have some basic travel recommendations for those at risk of DVT. For example, if you’re driving, wear compression stockings, and pull over to walk around every hour or so. If you’re flying, wear compression stockings, and walk around the plane as much as the flight crew allows. Otherwise, raise and lower your heels, while keeping your toes on the floor and vice versa. It’s also highly important to drink plenty of water and take all prescribed medications, such as blood thinners. And if you know of your travel plans months in advance, attempt to lose weight and quit smoking, if applicable, to reduce the more severe impacts of DVT.

Usually, there are no travel restrictions for those at risk of DVT, unless they’re recovering from a recent surgery or are undergoing dialysis. Even then, though, dialysis patients can work with their doctor to arrange this treatment at their travel destination.

This road, paved with short-form education on DVT, leads back to our opening statement — consult with your doctor before making definitive travel arrangements. He or she will assess your condition as the date of your desired trip gets closer. We’ll hope that doctor will be one of us at Vascular & Vein Center at Gulfcoast Surgeons — (239) 939-1767. For more information, please watch our holiday travel clip here.