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What to Know About Air Travel if You Have Peripheral Vascular Disease

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on October 26, 2021

Peripheral vascular disease — or PVD — includes any disorder that affects your blood vessels.  The term is often used interchangeably with peripheral artery disease – or PAD – and can include the narrowing of the blood vessels that deliver blood to your legs and arms. The disease heightens your risk of blood clots, especially if you are sitting in one place for a long time, such as during a long airplane flight.

Should I Fly if I Have PVD?

If you have PVD and are planning to fly, there are some precautions you can take before getting on the plane and during air travel.

Talk to your doctor. Before booking your trip, you should check with your doctor. Depending on your condition, they’ll be able to help you prepare. If you have new symptoms or have recently been hospitalized, they’ll need to determine if it’s safe for you to fly with PVD. 

Have the right information. Before your flight, you’ll want to gather the following pieces of information: 

  • Contact information for a doctor or the closest medical center to where you’ll be traveling
  • Access to your medical records online
  • Up-to-date immunization records

Choose the right attire. Comfortable shoes and compression socks will help make your travels safer, especially if you’re traveling on a plane for more than eight hours or 3,100 miles. If possible, during your flight, try to elevate your feet above your chest to reduce the risk of clots. 

Move around during the flight. While it’s not possible to walk back and forth on the plane, you should try to get up once every 2 hours. A trip to the bathroom or a quick stretch can reduce your risk during flying. 

If you stay sitting for the entire flight, your risk of blood clots in your legs increases. This is a risk for anyone, but the risk is heightened when you have PVD. When you’re getting up to walk around, make sure the seatbelt light isn’t on. 

Stay hydrated. It’s best to choose water when flying. Carrying a water bottle and taking occasional sips can keep you from becoming dehydrated. 

Does My Travel Destination Matter if I Have PVD?

One thing to consider when flying with PVD is the elevation of your destination. If you’re traveling to a location with a higher altitude, be aware that the thinner air affects how oxygen is carried around your body. But higher altitudes shouldn’t be too concerning if you’ve taken the right precautions. 

Pay attention to the shortness of breath or pain in certain parts of your legs. Other symptoms like this could mean your PVD is becoming unstable.

Travel to certain countries may require you to get certain vaccines, but these won’t affect your heart. Be aware that in some low-income countries, however, you may have less access to quality medical care.

Most symptoms will be due to a lack of blood flow to the leg muscles. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Travel and Heart Disease.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Planning to Travel? Don’t Let Heart Disease Stop You.”

COLUMBIA: “Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD), Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).”

NIH: “Peripheral Artery Disease.”

Vascular Cures: “What is Peripheral Artery Disease?”

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