People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) deserve to enjoy a vacation, go on a work trip, or visit long-distance family, but flying with PAD can pose unique complications. This is especially true of longer flights that last more than four hours. The most common type of PAD is lower-extremity PAD, which is why staying still for so many hours can be very risky. These complications could include blood clots, as PAD causes the arteries to narrow, making it difficult for blood to flow. 

Before booking a trip, check in with your healthcare provider to ensure that air travel is right for you. At USA Vascular Centers, our skilled vascular doctors are here to help you manage your PAD symptoms and prepare you for travel. 

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Can You Fly With Peripheral Artery Disease?

Many patients wonder if it is safe to fly with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Fortunately, the American Heart Association says that travel doesn’t need to be off-limits as long as you manage your PAD symptoms.. 

Before traveling, it is important to understand the potential risks of flying with PAD. Air travel typically means you’ll be sitting in one seat for several hours without much movement. With extended periods of sitting, your blood flow decreases, and your risk of developing blood clots increases, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can lead to very serious complications, such as pulmonary embolism and postphlebitic syndrome.

Additionally, being at a high altitude can also further the risks of air travel if you have PAD. During your flight, the air within the cabin is pressurized to feel like oxygen levels at 6,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. When the air is thin and your body isn’t used to it, it puts added pressure on your heart to pump blood through your body. 

If you are cleared for air travel, we recommend also consulting with your healthcare provider for sound advice on how to travel safely and without any strain on your wellbeing. 

Recommended Products for PAD Patients Flying

Before heading to the airport, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve brought everything you need with you. Anything you need to manage your PAD, like medication, should be packed in your carry-on. Here are some of the items you may want to consider bringing:

  • Medications: Any necessary medications should be placed in your carry-on. The American Heart Association also recommends bringing a copy of your prescription names and specific prescribed dosages in the case that you lose or forget your medication.
  • Water: After you get through security you’ll want to secure a large bottle of water or bring an empty water bottle to fill, as higher altitudes can cause dehydration. Hydration is key for PAD management, as studies show proper hydration reduces claudication, also known as leg pain or weakness triggered by activity that ceases at rest. 
  • Compression socks: Some people with PAD wear compression socks to improve blood flow in the legs. Ask your doctor whether compression socks are right for you. 

Tips for PAD Patients & Flying

Flying with peripheral artery disease means being mindful about how you travel and taking certain precautions to stay safe. It is important to know what you should bring, how you can prepare for a safe journey, and what you should do once you take off. 

To mitigate any potential risk, heed the following tips ahead of and during your flight.

Tip #1: Move around the plane’s cabin as much as you can. 

Note when the seatbelt sign is off so you know it’s safe to get out of your seat. Ways of ensuring movement during your flight include: 

  • Walking up and down the aisles or stretching your legs near the bathroom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all travelers get up and move around every two hours. If you have PAD, consult with your physician as you may need to get up more often to help your blood flow.
  • Keep the area below the seat in front of you empty so that you can extend your legs forward. This will allow you to properly rotate your ankles and move your legs more freely. A quick exercise: Extend your legs straight out and pull your ankles toward you. Do this several times in a row. 
  • Pull your knees up to your chest and hold for 15 seconds. Do this several times.

Tip #2: Recognize the symptoms of blood clots ahead of your flight.

Because flying with PAD increases the risk of blood clots, being able to detect any early symptoms of clotting is essential. Symptoms of blood clots include:

  • A change of skin color in the area affected
  • A feeling of warm skin in the area of the clot
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cramps in the area affected
  • Pitting edema, which is an excess of fluid in the skin that causes noticeable swelling. When you press on the spot, pitting edema causes a dimple or indentation. 

Tip #3: Avoid excessive sodium onboard. 

Available foods while flying may have additional sodium content, so preparing your own healthier, low-sodium food ahead of your flight is your best option. Salt can cause plaque build-up and increase blood pressure, both of which put you at risk for PAD or exacerbate existing PAD symptoms. . 

Tip #4: Avoid alcohol consumption. 

It’s best to avoid alcohol before and while flying, as it can further dehydrate you. Reach for a water bottle instead to quench your thirst.

In addition to following these tips, be sure to bring up any questions or concerns about flying with PAD to your doctor before booking or boarding your flight. 

Schedule a Consultation with USA Vascular Centers

USA Vascular Centers believes living with PAD shouldn’t stop you from traveling freely. Our reliable vascular surgeons provide minimally invasive treatments and are dedicated to improving your quality of life. Call us at 888.723.2193 or make an appointment with one of our specialists today. 

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