Veins, Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Varicose Vein Blood Clots

Veins, Planes, Trains, Automobiles and Varicose Vein Blood Clots

The Dirty Little Secret that Airlines Know But Won’t Tell You

Varicose vein blood clots are preventable.

All of the airlines make you fasten your seatbelt.


That’s because they don’t want you to fall when there is turbulence. Any resulting lawsuit would be automatically settled.

The only question would be the amount that they would have to write to you on your check. They also don’t want you interfering with their free drink and snack tray by walking in the aisles.

However, they never announce a much more common health issue before the flight – ever.

That is the risk that you could get a blood clot from the flight. They just don’t want to tell you.


No one could prove that the clot came from the flight as opposed to witnesses who could see you fall if your seat belt was not fastened.

The airlines cannot be proven legally negligent if you get a blood clot even though they know the risks.

This article will tell you what you can do to prevent blood clots when you travel and tell you the risk factors.

Why Most People Don’t Do Anything to Prevent Varicose Vein Blood Clots During Travel

Most people are fully aware that you can get blood clots after travelling but don’t do anything to prevent them.

The reasons are:

  • People don’t know how to prevent blood clots when they travel. The need to increase public awareness is the main reason for this article.
  • People don’t think of preventing blood clots ahead of time. Planning ahead of time by wearing medical grade support stockings is an example.
  • People don’t think it will happen to them. The odds of a blood clot are low. That is especially true if you have traveled in the past multiple times without any problems. The airlines never mention it either.
  • It is simply ignored. Compare this with not buckling your seat belt in your car. The chances of an accident or injury are also small.

However, common sense and the law won’t allow you to risk not wearing a seat belt in your car.

Even though the risks of a car accident are very small, would you ignore that and not buckle up?

Don’t stick your head in the sand.

Remember, a blood clot can be fatal!

What Increases Your Risk of Blood Clots From Traveling?

If you have more than one of these risk factors, your chance of developing a blood clot is higher than the general population.

  • Sleeping while you sit in your chair
  • Varicose Veins
  • Birth control pills
  • Drinking alcohol during a trip decreases the chance that you will walk
  • Previous clotting problems
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Abnormal lung function
  • Recent surgery
  • Pregnancy
  • History of stillborn baby or spontaneous abortion
  • Hormonal replacement of any type
  • Cancer

How Can You Prevent Deep Vein Clots When You Travel?

The most important advice that I can give you is to walk frequently during long trips.

Compression support stockings will compress your superficial veins and prevent them from clotting.

Flex your feet to squeeze your calf muscles, which are the pump for the blood in the veins of your legs.

If you notice that your leg is swollen, hot or painful after a long trip, see your doctor immediately. They will probably order an ultrasound test on your veins to rule out blood clots.

If you develop difficulty breathing, chest pain especially when taking a deep breath or an irregular or rapid heartbeat, seek medical help right away. These are signs that a blood clot may have traveled to your heart or lungs.

Taking aspirin will not prevent blood clots when you travel.

Aspirin is a mild blood thinner but will not decrease your blood clot risk in your veins when you travel.

Why Do You Get Blood Clots When Traveling Long Distances?

Many of us travel to spend time with our families, for business or for a vacation. That often means spending long periods sitting without getting up to stretch your legs.

Walking contracts your calf muscles.

Your calf muscles pump the blood back to your heart through your veins.

The heart pumps the blood though your arteries down to your legs. The heart does not push the blood through your veins.

Once the blood reaches your veins, the heart can no longer pump the blood. Therefore, when you sit, gravity tends to pull the blood back toward your feet.

The blood stagnates in your veins in your legs when the calf muscles are not working when you sit.

The lack of blood flow in your veins is what causes your blood to clot in your veins. The longer your car trip or flight, the higher the risk that you will develop blood clots.

If you also have varicose veins, this stagnant pool of blood is at higher risk of clotting. When blood clots in varicose veins, it is called thrombophlebitis or phlebitis for short.

Varicose veins are the abnormal bulging superficial veins that occur in some people that are easily visible right under the skin.

Phlebitis is generally not life threatening unless the clots grow into the deep veins.

When blood clots occur in the deep veins, they could travel to your heart or lungs.

I’ll say it again. They can be fatal.

Prevention, Prevention, Prevention of Varicose Vein Blood Clots

With real estate, it’s location, location, location.

With blood clots, their prevention is of the utmost importance.

If you have varicose veins, it is important that you see a qualified vein expert.

Prevention of thrombophlebitis (clots in varicose veins) is possible if you are proactive.

This is especially recommended when you are a frequent flyer or if you travel on a regular basis.

Prevention is better than cure.

– Desiderius Erasmus

The next quote pertains to the rationing of vein care and preventative measures. Venous procedures are expanding exponentially requiring the restriction of vein care by insurance companies.

Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.

– Bill Gates

Varicose Vein Blood Clots and Travel

I often see patients who come to me as a vascular surgeon for hard, tender and reddened lumps where they had previously seen only soft bulging varicose veins. Many of these people never had symptoms in their varicose veins.

Because their varicose veins never bothered them, they just ignored them. It was not until they became sore and painful after the long trip that they sought medical advice and help.

The sad thing is that a superficial thrombophlebitis blood clot is very preventable. Another discouraging fact is that the doctor cannot give you medicine to dissolve this type of clot.

Since these clots are not usually life threatening, the risk of a strong blood thinning medicine is not worth the risk of taking the blood thinner. Therefore, you are given some anti-inflammatory medicine and told to let it resolve on its own.

Blood thinners can cause bleeding. The newest blood thinners cannot be reversed if you start bleeding from an accident. Because these new blood thinners have many advantages, doctors are switching to them.

Sometimes the superficial blood clot dissolves and comes back. That is not uncommon. Sometimes the blood clot enlarges and grows into nearby veins.

Varicose vein treatment with modern minimally invasive methods can break this vicious cycle and also prevent clots within them during travel.


Many people are aware of the risk of blood clots when travelling. Often the risk is ignored.

Some people do not know how to prevent this potentially fatal combination.

Activate your calf muscle pump by walking during long trips. Flex your calf muscles while you are sitting.

Wear compression stockings that are specially made to prevent blood from pooling in your legs while you are sitting.

See a qualified vein specialist if you suffer from any leg discomfort or leg swelling after a long trip.

If you have varicose veins, get an opinion about having them removed to prevent superficial blood clots in your veins after travelling.

Prevention is much easier and less painful than long periods of suffering after you have developed blood clots.

To learn more, call our office at 724-969-0600 or contact us here.

About The Author

Dr. John Happel

Dr. John Happel has been in practice as a surgeon since 1986 in the Pittsburgh region. He specializes in vascular surgery and has subspecialized in the treatment of varicose and spider veins since 1999. Dr. Happel is board certified in vascular surgery and recertified in vascular surgery in 2012. He was chosen in 1985 to fulfill the position for the vascular surgical fellowship at the world renowned Mayo Clinic.