The Clinic is Closed

Top tip from Dr Gajraj: don't forget to look after your legs when flying

At this time of year, many of us will be taking a flight to a holiday destination.  Some of us will spend many hours in a cramped seat on the plane and at the end of the journey we may experience discomfort and swelling in our feet and ankles.  This familiar problem occurs because our calf muscles are not active and do not squeeze the blood out of the leg vein circulation back to the heart. Many of us are concerned about the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after airplane travel and this can be fuelled by stories of healthy young travellers suffering from a fatal blood clot that has developed in the legs and moved to the lungs (embolism).
Although varicose veins do not cause DVT many experts agree that they may be an additional risk factor when travelling.
Here are my tips for maintaining the health of your veins when flying:

  • Wear good quality medical grade compression stockings.  My favourite is the Sigvaris flight sock  If however you suffer from diabetes or leg circulation problems, seek advice before wearing compression stockings or flight socks and in any event make sure you are properly measured and fitted.
  • Do the in-flight exercises demonstrated before takeoff. Leg flexing exercises while seated result in substantial increases in blood flow in the deep vein system.  Take a walk around the cabin every two hours.
  • Avoid sleeping on the flight if at all possible, even on the night-time flight.
  • Keep hydrated.
  • Avoid beverages such as alcohol which may dehydrate you.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing.
  • If you have had a DVT in the past, if you have recently been discharged from hospital or if you are receiving treatment for cancer see a vein specialist who may suggest you are treated with blood thinning medication or even that you delay your flight.

Deep vein thrombosis is sometimes very difficult to diagnose.  If however you have severe swelling or discomfort in one leg after a flight, or if you suffer from shortness of breath or pains in your chest following your flight seek medical advice urgently.
For the majority, taking these simple precautions will maintain the health of your leg veins.