Planning a holiday is an exciting time. Scrawling through pictures of sunny beaches, gorgeous hotels and exotic locations fills us with anticipation for a fun-filled time ahead.
It may not be something you like to think about, but travel does present its health risks – especially if you’re taking long haul flights. Spending hours sitting still in a cramped airplane is not only boring and uncomfortable, it can actually be a danger to your health - especially if you have varicose veins.
Varicose veins are swollen and twisted veins that look a bit like purple ropes sitting just under the surface of the skin. They’re caused by weakened valves within the vein that interrupt the normal flow of blood, which builds pressure that distorts the vein.
What many people don’t know is that there is a link between varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in veins, usually in the legs. It’s a potentially life threatening condition if the blood clot travels upward to the lungs, called a pulmonary embolus.
People who sit still for prolonged periods of time, such as on long flights, are at heightened risk of developing DVT.
What’s the link between varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis?
Blood clotting, or thrombosis, is a protective mechanism that occurs to prevent excessive bleeding when we’re injured. It’s what keeps us from bleeding to death when our blood vessels are punctured or torn.
However, stagnant blood flow, such as the pooling that occurs in tortuous varicose veins, encourages abnormal clot formation. The clot then sits there blocking the flow of blood, encouraging even further clotting.
When clotting happens only in veins very close to the skin (superficial thrombophlebitis), the clots can cause some irritation and discomfort, but it’s rarely a serious medical issue if treated early. Sometimes however, the clots can extend to involve the deeper veins (DVT) which can lead to pulmonary embolism, which is potentially a life threatening condition. It’s estimated that DVT causes approximately 400 deaths in Australia each year.
Before you travel, visit your GP for an assessment of your varicose veins and level of risk of DVT. If necessary, your GP can arrange a referral to Sunshine Coast vascular surgeon Dr Rebecca Magee to discuss your treatment options.
Treatment options for varicose veins
There are a range of effective treatments available for varicose veins including:
Endovenous ablation – Using radiofrequency energy or laser to cauterize (burn) and close varicose veins.
VenaSeal ‘glue’ – A ‘walk in, walk out’ treatment where a special adhesive is used to seal the main defective vein.
Ultrasound guided sclerotherapy – This procedure involves injecting a solution into abnormal veins that cause them to collapse and be absorbed into the body.
Sunshine Coast Vascular offers a full suite of treatments for varicose veins including both day surgery procedures and convenient ‘walk in, walk out’ minimally invasive treatments. Treatment options are tailored for each person to provide best results, and may include a combination of different procedures depending on your individual circumstances. Long haul travel is generally not recommended for at least a month before or after varicose vein treatment.
Plan before you go
It’s always a good idea to see your GP for a checkup before travelling, especially if a long flight is involved. There are several local travel medicine specialists here on the Sunshine Coast that can make sure you’re ready to fly and enjoy your holiday without the pain of varicose veins or a high risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Remember to plan your treatment at least 4-6 weeks before your holiday, so your legs have time to heal (and look their best on the beach).
Where to get more information
If you’re suffering from varicose veins and worried about your risk of developing DVT, contact your GP for a referral to Dr Rebecca Magee at Sunshine Coast Vascular. Dr Magee practices from Buderim Private Hospital and specialises in a range of minimally invasive vascular and endovascular treatments.