Varicose veins develop as a result of the veins becoming swollen and prominent in a restricted area. The reason for this is that the blood should normally run freely through the veins towards the heart. If it is unable to do so, this will become apparent by the appearance of the unsightly purple/blue, raised, superficial veins.
Veins have their own series of one way valves, which, once the blood has passed through, will prevent the blood from flowing back and pooling in the same area. However, over time, the valves can become weakened, perhaps damaged, and so are unable to do their job properly, thus impairing the free flow, forward continuity of the blood, causing it to instead flow backwards. This occurrence is what eventually leads to varicose veins. They can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly, due to gravity, present themselves on the lower leg.
There is no need to be concerned about flying if you have varicose veins. They are part of the superficial venous system and do not correlate in the formation of the more serious condition of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Minor varicose veins will not pose a problem with flying and should not affect circulation. Hence, they should not be confused with DVT as the two are unrelated. That said, they can sometimes cause discomfort, and whilst on a flight you will often be sitting in the same position for an extended period of time. Therefore, it is always advisable to speak with your GP for advice prior to flying if you are unsure as to whether they are indeed varicose veins or something more concerning.
There are certain steps that can be taken to help prevent/alleviate some of the symptoms whilst on a flight.
Compression stockings are easily available and can be worn to help blood flow more easily.
Though it can be a force of habit, make a conscious effort not to cross your legs, so as to not restrict the circulation.
Drink plenty of fluids to keep you hydrated - preferably water - and avoid drinking alcohol.
Wear comfortable clothing that is loose fitting so it does not restrict movement.
Massage the calf muscles and point your feet upwards and then down to the floor to tighten them. This will also help to avoid cramp.
Get up and walk around whenever possible to stretch the legs and get the blood flow moving more efficiently.
Treatment will not always be necessary for varicose veins. Whether treatment would be beneficial would all depend on a person's overall general health as well as the size, position and severity of the veins. In many cases, people have treatment for the varicose veins more for cosmetic purposes than for health reasons.
There are three types of veins in the legs:
Superficial veins are the ones just below the surface of the skin. These are the ones that quite often protrude and are easy to see. These are also the veins that have the potential to turn into varicose veins and do not pose a threat the majority of the time.
Deep leg veins are the veins that run through the muscles. These are the ones that have the potential to acquire a DVT. Flying with DVT can cause serious problems, and if suspected, medical advice should be sought immediately.
Small perforator veins are the veins which carry blood from the superficial veins to the deep veins.