March 21, 2011

Venous disease called silent killer

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Travel, Women at 4:46 pm by dinaheng

If you sit at a desk for work, take long plane rides, or drive long distances, you might want to pay more attention to how your legs feel.

Blood clots are usually not detected until they cause a serious health problem, such as the recent pulmonary embolism experienced by tennis star Serena Williams, whose swollen leg and inability to breathe easily made her go to the emergency room, where doctors ordered a CAT scan of her lungs and found several blood clots.

Problems with blood flow through the veins affects one in five adults over the age of 45, and early detection is critical to preventing serious problems. March is Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Awareness Month, and experts say the risk of developing DVT is greatest when people sit or stand for long periods of time, which can cause pooling of blood in the lower legs.

“People with venous disease will say as the day goes on that their legs feel achy and throbbing,” says Dr. John Mauriello, president of the American College of Phlebology. “They go home and put their feet up, and they feel okay again because the swelling goes away. Venous thrombosis usually starts in the leg. It’s referred to as the silent killer because people walk around with it and don’t know it.”

Mauriello says any pain or swelling in the legs is a warning sign, along with changes in skin color (redness) in one leg and increased warmth in one leg.

While most DVT sufferers are older, obese, or pregnant, the doctor says DVT can hit anyone. Those at higher risk include people who smoke cigarettes, suffer from heart failure, have had recent surgery, or are on bedrest.

Mauriello says there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk for DVT while traveling long distances. Getting up periodically to walk in the plane’s aisle, or stopping the car to get out and walk every hour or two is important.

“I always wear a knee-high compression stocking to reduce the risk when I’m traveling for a long period of time in a plane, or when I’m standing in surgery,” says Mauriello, who practices in Bradenton, Fla. “You need to keep yourself hydrated. Alcohol and coffee dries your body out. You need to drink water. Any time I get on a plane, I also take a baby aspirin, which thins the blood, and increases the rate of survival if you have a heart attack.”

Mauriello says compression stockings were invented to overcome swelling in the legs, and are the most conservative way to treat a venous problem.

There are numerous manufacturers of compression stockings, compression socks and support hose. Out of curiosity, I tried on a few samples from Ames Walker.

The first thing you notice is that the socks are harder to put on than “regular” socks, by necessity, because they’re made to squeeze you in those places where blood can pool. Graduated compression hosiery is designed to regulate blood flow velocity by applying maximum pressure at the ankles with gradually reduced pressure up the length of the hosiery. Getting them on your feet entails turning the socks inside out, and gently pulling them up

The hosiery comes in various styles, ranging from sports and dress socks for men and women to fly front leotards for men and pantyhose for women. The compression can range from mild to extra firm, depending on whether you’re trying to prevent tired, achy legs or treating moderate to advanced stages of venous disease.

I tried on a pair of moderate support sports socks, and could instantly feel the difference between them and my usually cotton sports socks. As someone not used to the pressure on my legs, I can’t say I enjoyed the sensation, but I can see how they could be a great remedy for circulation problems.

When I tried on a pair of mild support sports socks, the difference was palpable, and not as restricting. I could see myself wearing these socks on a long haul flight as a preventative measure. Ditto for wearing the mild compression pantyhose, which requires particular care to prevent snagging.

The cost for compression hosiery is not cheap. One pair of compression socks can run $12 or more.  Pantyhose can run about $15 a pair and up. The compression usually lasts for up to 6 months of wear, and everything has to be hand washed and air dried.

The best way to prevent DVT, of course, is to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Mauriello says that means eating a balanced diet with more fresh fruits and vegetables, which hydrate the body better than pizza and French fries, and moving the body through exercise and physical activities.

“If you’re running and moving your legs, and pumping the blood around, you’ll have a diminished risk of getting blood clots,” Mauriello says. “Women, especially during pregnancy and post-delivery, should be particularly aware of the problem. But blood clots aren’t gender specific. It can affect anyone.”

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1 Comment »

  1. Michael said,

    Good information. I have edema from my 2nd knee replacement surgery. Also have varicose veins and spider veins My doctor has me wearing compression support hose with 15-20mhg. Have swelling above knee so I wear thigh high stockings and pantyhose. Also Solidea has Uomo compression shorts I wear with knee high compression socks. All work well and help against leg fatigue and aches. Am able to stay active walking, cycling and swimming. Sometimes wear CEP athletic compression socks. Good article. Thanks


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