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Compression stockings 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, exerting pressure against the legs, reducing the diameter of distended veins, and causing an increase in 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.
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 towards the knees and thighs. By compressing the surface veins, arteries and muscles, the circulating blood is forced through narrower circulatory 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.
There are two types of compression stockings, gradient and anti-embolism.
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:
Tired, aching legs occur when the blood flow slows down in the legs (can be an indicator of deep vein thrombosis).
When any combination of blood or tissue fluid, pool in the legs and feet due to poor circulation.
This is when the veins cannot pump deoxygenated blood to the heart.
Varicose veins are saccular and distended veins which can expand considerably and may cause painful venous inflammation. Once developed, will not disappear on its own. The formation of varicose veins is an externally visible sign of venous weakness.
Spider Veins are the smallest cutaneous blood vessels which shimmer bluish or reddish through the skin.
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.
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.
Inflammation and clotting 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, which can clog a superficial vein.
Occurs on long flight, due to traveler's inactivity, gravity, and cramped seating, which slows down the blood flow through veins.
Inflammation of subcutaneous fat, 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, but studies show that wearing an elastic compression has no additional benefit following elastic bandaging for three days in post-operative care after stripping of the great saphenous vein as assessed by control of limb, oedema, pain, complications and return to work.
There is a possible link between a common physical defect in the heart and potentially deadly stroke that could occur during long airplane flights. The connection, called "economy class stroke syndrome," has been reported in healthy, young travelers who suffered ischemic strokes during or shortly after long air trips. Prolonged sitting associated with air travel is known to be a cause of clots forming in the legs. Upwards of 30 percent of the population is estimated to have patent foramen ovale (PFO), a common condition where a small hole exists between the right and left sides of the heart. PFO rarely causes any adverse medical condition and can only be determined through specific diagnostic tests such as an echocardiogram.
These stockings are designed to remedy impaired "Musculovenous pump" performance caused by incompetent leg vein valves. They are woven in such a way that the compression level is highest around the ankle and lessens towards the top of the hose.
Doctors will typically recommend these stockings for those who are prone to blood clots, lower limb edema, and blood pooling in the legs and feet from prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity.
They are worn by those who are ambulatory in most cases, where they assist the calf muscles to perform their pumping action more efficiently to return blood to the heart. In some cases, they are worn by those at increased risk of circulatory problems, such as diabetics, whose legs are prone to excessive swelling. A common indicator for the prescription of such stockings is chronic peripheral venous insufficiency, caused by incompetent perforator veins. Low pressure compression stockings are available without prescription in most countries, and may be purchased at a pharmacy or medical supply store. Stockings with a higher pressure gradient, say, above 25-30mmHg, may require a prescription from a doctor.
There are several crucial cautionary steps that need to be taken before using compression stocking:
Vascular doctors & nurses may use special pads to ensure uniform higher pressure around the circumference of the ankle (to smooth out the irregular cross-sectional profile.) Self-prescription is reasonably safe assuming that the compression gradient is 15-20 mmHg, the ABI (for both legs) is >1.0 and that the stockings fit correctly. "Firm" gradient stockings (20-30 mmHg and 30-40 mmHg) should generally be worn only on medical advice.
These stockings are commonly referred to as TED hose, short for thromboembolism-deterrent hose. They are used to support the venous and lymphatic drainage of the leg.
Like gradient compression stockings, anti-embolism stockings deliver a distributed amount of compression at the ankle and up the leg. This compression, when combined with the muscle pump effect of the calf, aids in circulating blood and lymph fluid through the legs (in non-ambulatory patients).
Compression wear has also been adopted by the sports science industry. Various garments have been developed to improve the efficiency of muscles by stabilising muscles and improving circulation/ lactic acid removal. Today, compression stockings are available in a wide range of opacities, colors, styles and sizes, making them virtually indistinguishable from regular hosiery or socks.
Caution should be used in those with advanced peripheral obstructive arterial disease, heart failure, septic phlebitis, oozing dermatitis and advanced peripheral neuropathy in regards to wearing compression stockings.
Compression stockings are constructed using elastic fibers or rubber. These fibers help compress the limb, aiding in circulation.
Compression stockings are offered in different levels of compression. The unit of measure used to classify the pressure of the stockings is mmHg. They are often sold in one of the following pressure ranges:
Support - over-the-counter
With the advice or prescription of a physician or medical professional and proper sizing from a trained fitter:
Compression levels used by some manufacturers for custom made, flat knitted products in the US and Europe:
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