September is Vascular Disease Awareness Month. Organised by UK charity The Circulation Foundation, the aim of the annual event is to raise the profile of a family of diseases that remain little understood and often overlooked by the public at large.
In truth, even medical science hasn’t fully got to grips with vascular disease yet. Our blood systems – the network of veins and arteries that carry blood to and from the heart around our body – are incredibly large and complex. There are 27 different known conditions and diseases that affect what medics call the vascular system. The causes of many are still not fully understood.
What we do know, however, is that vascular disease can have a debilitating impact on sufferers. It can cause chronic pain, reduced mobility, physical disability and mental impairment. It is also incredibly common. In the UK, one in six people will have a stroke, one of the most prevalent forms of vascular disease, in their lifetime. It’s also one of the most common killers.
A lot of people will also have some understanding that vascular disease is associated with heightened risks while travelling, especially if you fly. The most famous example is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which causes potentially painful clots in the veins and can be triggered by the changes in pressure the body experiences when flying at altitude. DVT can be life threatening if the clot becomes detached and starts to travel through the body.
DVT is a risk factor of other common vascular diseases such as peripheral artery disease (PAD) and carotid artery disease. PAD, for example, is a condition which sees the arteries in the limbs narrow due to the buildup of plaque and fatty deposits. This narrowing increases the risk of clots forming. It also causes painful cramping, weakness in the limbs and changes in the appearance of the skin, including sores developing.
Whether you are living with PAD, you have recently had a stroke or have been diagnosed with any other vascular condition, it’s worth knowing the risk factors associated with travel and what you can do to look after yourself. Here’s what you need to know.
Talk To Your Doctor –
Most vascular conditions shouldn’t prevent you from flying. But if you have had a recent bad episode or have seen your symptoms get worse, you should take your doctor’s advice on whether travel is a good idea or not.
If you have had a stroke in the past few months, for example, you could be putting yourself at risk of a relapse. It isn’t just the changes in air pressure when flying that could affect your health. Travel can be stressful, with potentially long queues at airports and cramped conditions on board vehicles.
Take Precautions –
Your doctor is also best placed to advise you on how you can travel as safely and as comfortably as possible. Again, this will depend both on the particular condition you suffer from and on your current state of health. But there are some general points that are well worth knowing.
One is that sitting stationary for long periods is often as much of a risk with vascular disease as the fabled changes in air pressure inside an aeroplane cabin. On long haul flights especially, all passengers, not just those diagnosed with a vascular condition, are advised to get up and stretch their legs by walking up and down the aisle from time to time. It’s important to get your circulation moving, even if your condition does cause you mobility issues.
On that front, it’s highly advisable to get in touch with your airline before you fly to explain your condition and request any assistance that might be appropriate. This could range from getting mobility support and priority access through the airport, to getting a seat on board where you are able to elevate your legs (a good way to guard against clotting for PAD patients).
Get The Right Travel Insurance –
Finally, it’s essential that you declare your vascular condition to your travel insurance provider. Like any pre-existing medical condition, vascular disease will alter how a travel insurance company views you in terms of risk. You are more likely to need medical assistance when you travel, therefore you are more likely to make a claim against your insurance. They will charge you a higher premium accordingly.
However, the inflated premiums many insurers charge for people with long-term medical conditions seemed designed to purposely put them off buying, they are that high. What you want is a dedicated policy for your specific condition offered by a specialist provider. Travel insurance for pre-existing conditions need not be prohibitively expensive, but should take into account your individual circumstances and current state of health. It should also offer cover for specialist treatments related to your condition, should you need them,
Don’t be tempted to hide your vascular condition from an insurer to get a cheaper deal. If you end up sick and need to make a claim, your insurer will investigate your medical history and declare your policy void for non-disclosure when they find out the truth.