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Compression garments are a specialized hosiery designed to help prevent the occurrence of, and guard against further progression of, venous disorders such as edema, phlebitis and thrombosis. Compression stockings are elastic garments worn around the leg, compressing the limb. This reduces the diameter of distended veins and increases venous blood flow velocity and valve effectiveness. Compression therapy helps decrease venous pressure, prevents venous stasis and impairments of venous walls, and relieves heavy and aching legs.
Knee-high compression stockings are used not only to help increase circulation, but also to help prevent the formation of blood clots in the lower legs. They also aid in the treatment of ulcers of the lower legs.
Unlike traditional dress or athletic stockings and socks, compression stockings use stronger elastics to create significant pressure on the legs, ankles and feet. Compression stockings are tightest at the ankles and gradually become less constrictive toward the knees and thighs. By compressing the surface veins, arteries and muscles, they force circulating blood through narrower channels. As a result, the arterial pressure is increased, which causes more blood to return to the heart and less blood to pool in the feet.
What does mmHg stand for? Which compression level is right for me?
Compression stockings can be confusing, we’re here to help. Here’s a basic guide.
MmHg stands for millimeters of mercury and it indicates the level of pressure or compression. Different situations require different compression levels.
- 8-15 mmHg: Lightest level of compression hosiery. For minor or occasional swelling. Just right if you spend a lot of time on your feet and need a little extra support.
- 15-20 mmHg: Also for minor and occasional swelling. This is the range most often suggested to reduce swelling and prevent blood clots during travel. Often recommended during pregnancy to prevent edema.
- 20-30 mmHg: If you often experience swelling in your ankles or feet by the end of the day, this is the range for you. Provides relief for heavy aching, fatigued legs. Reduction of mild to moderate edema from pregnancy, varicose veins and other conditions.
- 30-40 mmHg: If you have severe swelling or notice you are still swelling at the end of the day with 20-30 mmHg compression, try 30-40 mmHg. Provides relief from severe varicose veins and swelling.
The above guide is to be used as a basic reference only. Always go with doctor’s recommendations.
Treatment is usually prescribed by a physician to relieve all manifestations of chronic venous disease and prevent venous troubles. Compression stockings are recommended under the following conditions:
Edema is a condition where the opposing forces that occur in the small blood vessels and capillaries cause a net ultrafiltration of plasma water into the soft tissues.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic peripheral venous insufficiency is when the veins cannot pump deoxygenated blood back to the heart.
Varicose veins are saccular and distended veins which can expand considerably and may cause painful venous inflammation. Once developed, they will not disappear on their own. The formation of varicose veins is an externally visible sign of venous weakness.
Deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when blood flow decreases (especially in the lower extremities), causing blood to pool in the legs and leading to blood clot (thrombus) formation. Compression stockings are beneficial in reducing symptomless deep vein thrombosis among airline passengers flying for 7 hours or more.
Lymphedema occurs when a body part swells due to an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid, occurring when there is interference with the normal drainage of lymph fluid back into the blood, commonly swelling the arm, leg, neck or abdomen.
Phlebitis is the term used when inflammation and clotting occurs in a vein, most often a leg vein, due to infection, inflammation, or trauma. People with varicose veins are more often affected. Inflammation occurs suddenly, causing the thrombus to adhere firmly to the vein wall and risking clogging a superficial vein.
Lipodermatosclerosis is the term used to refer to the inflammation of subcutaneous fat, a form of panniculitis.
Hormones released during pregnancy and the expanding uterus (pressure on the inferior vena cava – the major vein returning blood up to the heart) can affect leg veins.
The use of elastic compression stockings can reduce volumetric variations during standing hours. The use of stockings for the entire day is more effective than just half the day or not using compression stockings at all. Many physicians and vein specialists recommend wearing compression stockings after varicose vein stripping.