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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Hospital Stockings Cut Problems From Leg Clot

But Expert Says Use Them Only If Other Methods Fail

WebMD Health News

Aug. 16, 2004 -- They're ugly and maybe even uncomfortable. But those "hospital stockings" could prevent complications after a blood clot in the leg, new research shows.

However, one expert advises wearing them only after trying other lifestyle changes.

DVT, or deep vein thrombosis, is a common problem for anyone who stays off their feet for an extended period of time. People who are hospitalized or immobile because of an injury often get them. Even air travelers who sit in cramped seats for hours are at risk; then it's called "economy class syndrome."

Typically, a person with a clot is put on a blood thinner to prevent new clots from forming. But blood thinners don't dissolve the existing clots.

One of every three to four DVT patients develops a complication from the clots - lower leg swelling, skin discoloration, numbness, chronic leg pain, hardening of the skin, or leg sores.

Wearing compression stockings every day dramatically cuts these complications for up to two years, reports Paolo Prandoni, MD, PhD, with the University Hospital of Padua in Italy. His paper appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine this month.

In his study, 180 patients hospitalized with DVT were given blood thinning medication. Before they were discharged, they were randomly assigned to wear or not wear elastic compression stockings daily for two years.

The compression stocking group had better results than the non-stocking group:

  • After six months, 40% of the non-stocking group developed complications, compared with 21% of the stocking group.
  • After one year, 47% of the non-stocking patients had problems, compared with 22% of the stocking group.
  • After two years, 49% of the non-stocking patients had complications, while only 25% of the stocking patients did.

Overall, the stockings did their job, cutting DVT problems almost in half, reports Prandoni.

Are They Really Necessary?

The compression stockings admittedly "are hot in the summer, relatively expensive, difficult for many patients to put on in the morning, and cosmetically unappealing to many," writes Jeffrey S. Ginsberg, MD, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in an accompanying editorial.

Sometimes, a simple lifestyle change -- frequently elevating the affected leg, not sitting or standing for long periods of time, using pain medications -- help control the symptoms, he explains. Patients with swelling in their legs may want to try support hose. If things get worse or if a skin ulcer develops, the full-strength compression stockings are advised.

However, if DVT symptoms subside, there's no need to wear them, writes Ginsberg.

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