Being Prepared for Hospitalization
Blood Clots and Your Legs
Blue Feet? They Could Mean "Venus Stasis"
Can You Recognize The Symptoms Of Vein Disease?
Compression Hosiery and Blood Flow
Gravity and Varicose Veins
Is High Compression Hosiery Necessary for Preventing Recurrence
Learn to Reduce Your Deep-Vein Thrombosis Risk
Minor Leg Problems - Causes & Cures
Pregnancy and Swollen Extremities
Should "Economy Class Syndrome" Worry Both Jet-Setters and
So Why Are Your Feet So Cold?
Summer Travel and Your Health
Surgery, Compression Hosiery and Prevention.
Taking Steps To Prevent Vein Disease
Understanding Leg Ulcers
Understanding Support Stockings and Compression Hosiery
Using Exercise To Improve Circulation
Varicose Veins and Pregnancy
Venous Thromboembolic Disease - It Can Be Prevented
Weight Loss for Healthier Legs and Feet
What Can You Do About Leg Cramps?
What Can You Do For Swollen Legs?
Being Prepared for Hospitalization
Most people would not think of undertaking a rigorous physical activity, such as running a race or playing competitive tennis, without first taking steps to prepare themselves for the stress and special stamina that the activity will require.
While we certainly don't think of going into a hospital for an extended stay as a sporting event, it actually can present many of the same physical and mental challenges as a grueling athletic event. As importantly, it's often possible to do "training" for your hospital stay to ensure that you're in the best shape to weather whatever your hospital experience and subsequent recuperation may require of you.
Of course, while there are many times when a hospital stay will be unexpected, often a patient will know well in advance that a certain procedure, such as joint replacement surgery, is in his or her future and that an extended hospital stay and subsequent recovery period will have to be faced. Because the prolonged periods of bed rest associated with many surgeries can increase your risk for deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms, it makes excellent sense to take whatever steps you can before entering the hospital to ensure that your risk for these complications will be as low as possible.
Knowing that your are facing a serious medical procedure and hospital stay in the near future can produce a lot of stress. It's important to take whatever steps you can to minimize this stress.
Start by meeting with your physician and getting your questions answered. A smart move is to write down questions you may have about your surgery, hospital stay and subsequent recovery before that meeting. Take the time to write down the answers he or she gives you to those questions. If you find that you get nervous speaking with your physician, you might ask a family member or a friend to come with you to take notes, allowing you better to ask your questions and concentrate on the answers you are receiving.
Also make sure that you understand the procedures related to your hospital stay. They might include coming in several days early for various lab tests, or avoiding food or drink the night before the surgery. You might also talk to your doctor about whether there is a need for you to donate blood, prior to your surgery, in case it is needed during the procedure. Getting all these questions answered and clearly understood well before your hospital stay can do a great deal to lower your overall stress level.
Get In Shape
When you know you have a hospital stay in your future, talk to your physician to find out what you can do to strengthen your muscles and to promote good circulation prior to your hospitalization. The better shape you're in going into surgery, the less risk you have for complications and general health problems after the operation.
If your medical condition allows it, your physician may allow some moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, to help strengthen your muscles, lungs and circulatory systems prior to your hospital stay. He or she might also recommend calf, leg and ankle exercises, both before and after surgery, if you will be confined to a bed or chair for an extended period of time.
It is essential, however, that you discuss any exercise program with your physician before undertaking an increased level of physical activity.
Another step for a healthier and stronger you can be to change those factors that are known to compromise your health. If you are overweight, making changes for healthy weight loss (not crash dieting) is one of the smartest moves you can make. While you probably won't reach your ideal weight before your hospital stay, just losing a few pounds can help you be better prepared to face your upcoming surgery.
Similarly, if you are a smoker, now (or actually, any time) is a great time to give up the habit. You are certainly not going to be allowed to smoke while in the hospital, so use it as an excuse to begin a smoking cessation program now. Your physician can offer advice, program suggestions and even medical help to assist in stopping smoking. Most importantly, you'll be making a change that will help reduce your health risks in a variety of areas.
Be Prepared For Your Recovery Period
Before your surgery and hospital stay is the time to talk with your physician about what is going to happen after the surgery. Find out if there are any special dietary restrictions, for example, that you may have to follow during your recovery. This is also a good time to discuss any dietary needs you may currently have and whether the hospital will be able to accommodate them during your stay.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about some of the health risks associated with hospital stays and any recovery period where your mobility will be limited for some time. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and very real health risks that are associated with it through pulmonary embolisms (the blood clots that form under DVT and then move through the circulatory system into the lungs) are a risk that anyone who will be bed or chair bound for some time must face.
Ask your physician about preventive measures, such as compression support hosiery, external compression devices or anticoagulant therapy, that might be used to reduce your DVT risk. There may also be specific exercises that the doctor or hospital recommends to reduce DVT risk during hospitalization.
If you currently have circulatory problems with your legs, ask your doctor about the use of quality compression hosiery prior to your surgery as a means of possibly improving your condition and preventing any worsening of your condition prior to your surgery. Now is also the time to find out if you should be using support stockings during your recovery period. You'll probably find most doctors recommend compression hosiery as a means of promoting better circulation while your ability to be physically active is restricted.
Make It a Success
No one look forward to surgery and hospital stays. But you take the time, prior to such events, to ask questions, get answers and do all you can to be in the best possible shape to face the upcoming ordeal, you greatly increase your ability to minimize your stress and maximize your chances for a successful outcome. And isn't that the best prescription for recovery?
Blood Clots and Your Legs
Blood clots in the legs are a much more common condition than many people realize. According to the National Institute of Health estimates, some two million Americans develop such blood clots each year.
The medical name for such clots is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and it is a condition which can have serious health implications. A blood clot in the leg can hamper or even block circulation within the leg. The result can be considerable pain, or even the death of tissue that is deprived of its normal blood flow.
An even bigger threat can occur when such a clot breaks loose, moves through the circulatory system and becomes lodged in another location. The most common complication of blood clots are pulmonary embolisms which occur when a blood clot breaks free from a vein and travels to the lung where there is a high risk of its blocking an artery.
The Symptoms of Blood Clots in the Leg
Because clotting is an important normal function of our blood, in actuality most of us develop small blood clots rather regularly. In most cases, such clots are quickly dissolved by the body and present no health risk.
But when a larger clot develops deep within a vein the risk increases for potential health problems. In such cases there may be a variety of symptoms that may occur as indications of the problem. They can include tenderness, redness, pain, fever, and swelling. Sometimes there will be a rapid heartbeat, joint pain and soreness, or even a sudden and unexplained cough.
While none of these symptoms by itself is a sure indicator of a blood clot, any of them is worth discussing with your physician, particularly if you are over the age of 60 (blood clots can occur at any age, but are most common in those over 60), are pregnant or have activities or past medical history that might make the formation of blood clots more likely.
Diagnosing a blood clot is a job for your physician. There are simple in-office tests that can give a primary indication of whether a DVT might be present, but most likely an ultrasound of the leg, or an x-ray flowing an injection of dye so that blood flow can be monitored, will be necessary.
Increased Risk for Blood Clots in the Leg
There are a number of factors that can increase one's risk for developing deep vein thrombosis. Hormone treatments, such as in women undergoing low-level estrogen therapy, have been shown to significantly increase the risk of blood clots in the leg, though the risk of such clots is still fairly low. However, for anyone receiving hormone therapy, it is a risk that should be discussed with one's physician.
An injury to a vein can also result in the formation of blood clots. Such injuries can result from a blow to the leg, but also from surgery or even radiation treatments for cancer. In all these instances, the vein injury has caused it to narrow or be blocked, thus hampering blood flow and allowing the blood to gather and clot.
Pregnancy also increases the risk for DVT, due to the natural changes in a woman's body that increase the blood's ability to clot in order to prevent excess bleeding during childbirth. Physicians are, of course, well aware of this condition, but it is important for a pregnant woman to be aware of leg pain or excessive swelling that may indicate the development of a blood clot. Consulting a physician quickly about such conditions can allow for quick diagnosis and treatment and help prevent the development of an embolism that could threaten the developing baby's health or life.
One of the most common causes of the development of blood clots in the legs is simply inactivity. People who are bed-ridden for an extended period of time can be a high risk for developing such clots.
But it can also happen to those who are forced to be inactive for relatively short periods of time. In recent years the problem has been most often associated with airline travel. Known an "Economy Class Syndrome," the risk for development of blood clots in the legs increases when someone is forced to sit for a long flight in a cramped area where there is little room to move the feet. The risk is the highest for those who are overweight, pregnant women, people whose feet don't touch the floor, people with coronary heart disease, smokers and older people.
Preventing and Treating Blood Clots in the Leg
Physicians today have a variety of ways to treat deep vein thrombosis. Such treatments can range from bed rest and drug therapy to leg surgery. In most cases, however, blood clots can be encouraged to dissolve on their own within the body. The main goal for the physician is to ensure that the clot does not break free and travel to other parts of the body.
Far better, of course, is to take steps to prevent blood clots from forming. There are a number of things most of us can do to minimize our risk for this condition:
- If you smoke, quit! Smoking greatly increases the development of blood clots for anyone even slightly at risk for DVT.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is an important way to minimize the chances of blood clots developing in your legs. Your physician can recommend appropriate exercises for you.
- If you are overweight, lose weight. The elderly and obese face the highest risk for developing blood clots in the legs.
- Avoid long periods of inactivity. If you are under bed rest, such as prescribed bed rest during pregnancy, even simple exercise, such as swinging your legs over the side of the bed a few times each hour, or pulling your knees up and down several times, can help reduce DVT risk. On long airline flights or car trips, taking a break to stand up and take just a short walk can make an important difference. When sitting, wiggling your toes, stretching your legs, and flexing your ankles can all help. You should also avoid sitting with your legs crossed (it limits circulation) and be sure to drink plenty of water while avoiding alcohol if you are at increase risk for DVT.
- Consider the use of quality compression hosiery. This can be especially important for those with varicose veins or other circulation problems within the legs. Support stockings or socks, especially during activities such as long airline flights, can help minimize the pooling of blood in the legs and ankles, as well as decrease the chances of blood clots forming.
While the development of blood clots in the legs is a serious and much too common health problem, it is a condition which is very treatable when diagnosed, and one which can often be prevented through simple measures. Being aware of this risk, and taking action to minimize its chances of developing, are smart approaches to better leg health.
Blue Feet? They Could Mean "Venus Stasis"
It sounds as if it should be the name of a beautiful statue somewhere in Italy, but the term "Venus Stasis" actually refers to blood flow problems in the legs. Venus stasis simply means that blood is tending to pool in the legs and feet, rather than returning to the lungs and heart to get new oxygen and to be re-circulated. And that's a problem that could indicate more serious health issues for which a physician's input is needed.
Why Circulatory Problems Can Lead To Blue Feet
Why does poor circulation mean that feet appear bluish in color? One of the components of your blood is hemoglobin. It's the part of the blood that carries the oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, and it's the part, when rich in oxygen, that gives your blood its bright red color. But once blood has circulated on its journey through the body, giving up its oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the muscles and other tissues it serves, that now-depleted blood turns blue in color.
With normal circulation, that blue-tinted blood spends little time in your lower extremities, your feet and legs. Rather, the combination of blood pressure, healthy valves and muscle contractions in the legs all work together to quickly return the blood to the lungs and heart to be re-oxygenated and re-circulated. But when the veins in your legs are not functioning properly, the pooling of that depleted blood in your lower legs and feet can bring a definite blue color to those areas.
Circulatory Problems Can Have Serious Health Implications
There are, of course, a wide variety of events and health problems that can lead to Venus Stasis. Its basic cause is the weakening or malfunctioning of the one-way valves within the veins of the legs that help keep the blood moving upward and back toward the heart. A secondary contributor is the stretching of the veins that usually accompanies defective valves and thus makes it easier for the blood to pool.
To know if Venus Statis is a problem that you are facing, and to help isolate possible causes and potential treatments, it is essential that you consult with your physician. A lack of attention to a condition such as Venus Stasis can have serious health implications. While common symptoms may include swelling of the legs and feet and the aforementioned blue color, more serious health issues include an increased likelihood for the formation of blood clots.
And while such clots can lead to various types of leg pains, a more serious issue is the movement of such clots through the circulatory system to areas where they can cause severe health problems. When these clots reach the lungs, where they are known as pulmonary embolisms, they can cause a variety of problems and, in some cases, can even lead to death if the clot should block the pulmonary artery that leads to the heart.
How To Minimize Your Risk
Physicians may recommend various treatments for Venus Stasis. However, if this is a health problem you are not currently facing, you may want to take action now to help prevent the condition from occurring. One starting point is to see whether any of the several factors that increase the risk for damage to the veins in the legs which can lead to Venus Stasis apply to you. All are ones over which you have control:
- Your weight: Obesity is a factor which significantly increases your risk for blood circulation problems in your legs.
- Smoking: The use of tobacco has a clear,association with circulatory problems, and when combined with obesity can dramatically increase the risk for circulatory problems as well as many other health issues.
- Exercise: Inactivity is a prime contributor to circulatory problems in the legs. While your heart pumps out blood at a fairly high pressure, much of that pressure has disappeared by the time the blood reaches your extremities, such as your feet. The muscles in your legs play an important role in helping force the blood back up to the heart and lungs. Regular exercise helps condition your leg muscles, as well as your heart, allowing them to be more effective in moving your blood.
If you are relatively sedentary, overweight, and a smoker, you are almost inviting circulatory problems and conditions such as Venus Stasis to develop. While overcoming lifestyle issues such as these is never easy, it is worth talking to your physician about your concerns and about the various types of help that are available in most communities today. Taking action now can prevent long term, and often irreversible, health problems later on.
From clinics on smoking cessation to special nutrition classes to help with weight loss, many hospital, community health clinics and organizations such as the YMCA are offering assistance that can make the transition to a healthier lifestyle much easier. You may also want to speak with your physician about the benefits that graduated support hosiery may be able to offer, both in minimizing the effects of a condition such as Venus Stasis, and in helping reduce further developments which can worsen the condition.
Can You Recognize The Symptoms Of Vein Disease?
The veins in our legs are a vital part of our circulatory system, returning the blood to our upper body to be re-oxygenated and replenished before it once again circulates throughout our body. But there are various things that can go wrong with our circulatory system, especially as we age.
Varicose veins can be one result of underlying circulatory problems. Unfortunately, many people are not aware of the symptoms which may indicate the development of varicose veins and vein disease. Recognizing the condition in its earliest stages, however, allows you to bring it to the attention of your physician, and possibly take steps to minimize the problem.
Vein Problems Aren't Always Visible
Varicose veins occur when the valves within our veins are missing or malfunctioning. Blood in the veins is then able to back up, pool and increase pressure against the vein walls. The result is that the veins stretch out of shape, both in terms of length and width. Not only can such stretched veins appear abnormal, but they can lead to serious, health-threatening complications.
However, it isn't always possible to recognize varicose veins simply by looking at your legs. While some people with varicose veins may have bulging, knotted blue chords on their legs, others with the condition may have no visible signs.
Yet varicose veins are a fairly common condition. Some health experts estimate that one-third of the American population is affected by this condition, and that it becomes more common as we age.
Symptoms That May Occur
There are a number of symptoms, however, that can indicate the beginning of vein problems that may be leading to varicose veins. One common one is a dull aching or generally tired feeling in your legs. You probably would find it difficult to pinpoint any specific place in your legs that is hurting, but instead feel it as a general, overall ache in your legs.
Your legs may also have a feeling of fullness or of being heavy and overfilled. You often will find that such symptoms are felt most when you have been sitting or standing for long periods of time. It's also common that such symptoms get worse later in the day. Leg cramps during the night, usually in your calf muscles, may be another symptom that occurs, especially after a long day with lots of sitting or standing in place.
One indication that vein problems and the early stages of varicose veins may be your problem is that the symptoms you feel, especially the dull aches and feeling of fullness in your legs, will go away if you lie down and elevate your legs.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and especially if they go away when you elevate your legs, discuss them with your physician. While there can be other causes for such problems, your doctor can offer tests and advice that can help you better understand your condition and the steps that you can take to relieve your discomfort and prevent more serious medical problems.
Compression Hosiery and Blood Flow
The Blood Flow System of the Legs
A healthy blood flow within the legs is dependent on a number of factors all working together. It requires the surface veins, the deep veins, the bicuspid valves and the calf muscles all to be operating well and in cooperation with each other. In some cases, however, due to injury, illness or simple aging, that doesn't always happen.
Normally, the surface veins generally carry a smaller amount of blood at lower pressure than the deep veins. The blood from these surface veins normally drains through the vascular system into the larger, deep veins in the leg. It is these deeps veins, situated within the major leg muscles, that carry the majority of the blood back up the leg. They carry a large volume of blood at high pressure as they help it on its journey back to the heart.
It is the movement of the calf muscle as we walk that provides the energy necessary to drive the blood back up our legs. That muscle contracts and relaxes as we move, forcing the blood upward out of the vein. As a portion of the vein empties, the backflow of that blood is prevented by the bicuspid valves, thus allowing the vein to fill with additional blood from the leg. The cycle of pumping the blood back up the leg is then repeated.
Valve Problems and Health Concerns
It is usually problems with the valves within the legs that lead to health problems. When these valves are not operating properly, they allow the blood to both flow upward as the leg muscles contract, but also to flow back down as the muscle relaxes. The result can be an increase in pressure within the veins, and specific problems as the pressure is increased within the surface veins.
These surface veins, which normally carry smaller quantities of blood at lower pressures, can be stretched by the increased pressure. Varicose veins are the most visible affect of this increase pressure, but over time, if not treated, the increased pressure can lead to edema, varicose eczema and leg ulcers.
The Role of Compression Hosiery
The source of blood flow problems within the leg, the failure of the valves within the blood system of the leg, cannot be corrected by compression hosiery. Dealing with that requires medical treatment by a physician. But compression hosiery is a means of reducing the hydrostatic pressure in the surface veins and of addressing the problems of pressure imbalances that may be occurring between the deep and surface veins.
Compression hosiery, as it exerts a continuous pressure upon the skin's surface and the veins close to that surface, performs as number of functions. It assists in increasing the volume of blood that is pumped from the leg as the calf muscles exercise. It also increases the velocity of the blood flow within the deep veins due to the pressure it is adding to the surface veins.
This pressure of the compression hosiery on the surface veins also works to reduce both the capacity and the pressure of the blood within the surface veins. That helps to counter the stretching that has been affecting those veins, an effect that is often seen in a reduction of superficial varicose veins.
While the use of compression hosiery can benefit a wide range of people, for those with serious health issues it is important to check with your physician, both for advice on the right type and strength of compression hosiery, and for treatment on the underlying problems that have led to the need for compression hosiery.
Gravity and Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are a common problem, one that affects millions of Americans. Yet despite how widespread this condition is, medical science does not know exactly what causes it. What we do know is that varicose veins happen because we are upright creatures, because we are constantly fighting gravity, and because sometimes small valves within the veins in our legs are no longer working properly. But exactly why those valves malfunction is still a question to be answered.
When working correctly, these valves act as a sort of traffic police, allowing blood to be pumped by our hearts up through the major veins in our legs and back to our upper body, and preventing blood from obeying the pull of gravity and flowing back downward to pool in the veins of our lower legs and feet.
A Simple Experiment
Because the veins in your arms do not contain valves such as those in your legs, you can demonstrate the importance these valves play in a simple experiment. Sit in a chair and let your arm hang down for about ten seconds (make sure you aren't wearing anything tight on your arm that would restrict blood flow). Look down at the back of your hand as it hangs and you'll see the veins have popped out slightly, the result of gravity's pull on the blood in your veins and the resultant pooling of that blood down near your hand. Now raise your hand above your head and you'll see that the protruding veins shrink almost immediately, as gravity now works to pull the blood down toward your body and back toward your heart.
Fluids and the Path of Least Resistance
Our blood is a fluid, and two basic principles apply to all fluids: they always prefer to flow in the direction of gravity, as when a stream flows down a mountain, and they will move from areas of high pressure to areas of less pressure. In other words, fluids, such as blood, take the path of least resistance.
When you are standing, that path of least resistance for the blood in your legs is towards your feet. Your heart, therefore, does not have to work very hard to pump its blood to the lower part of your body because gravity is helping the process.
But in returning the blood to your upper body, the heart has to do more work because it now is working against gravity (when you are upright). Because the natural tendency of blood is to pool in the lowest part of your body, the veins in our legs have developed small valves that restrict the flow of the blood back downward. When these valves are working properly, this means less work for our heart, since it does not have to generate as much pressure to fight a large pool of blood in our lower extremities, but instead is able to push the blood on its upward journey through a set of stages, past each of the valves in our legs.
When Valves Malfunction
Problems arise when those valves malfunction. Gravity is then able to pull more blood back down in the veins, where it pools. The veins become dilated (stretched), making it even harder for the valves to do their work, and causing the condition known as varicose veins.
The stretching of those veins is why quality compression hosiery provides important relief. The pressure that compression hosiery applies to the leg helps to keep the veins from stretching out further due to the effects of blood attempting to pool in response to the pull of gravity. By applying graduated pressure (with the highest pressure near the bottom of your, where the pressure from the pooling blood is also the highest), compression hosiery helps support your veins and improve the circulation within your legs.
As creatures who move in an upright position through the world, we are constantly subject to the pull of gravity and its effect on the flow of our blood. It is helpful to understand how it affects our bodies, and to know that modern medical help, such as top-quality compression hosiery, can provide relief when we do face problems.
Is High Compression Hosiery Necessary for Preventing Recurrence of Venous Ulcers?
Studies indicate that about one percent of adults will suffer from leg ulceration at some time in their lives. The majority of these leg ulcers are the result of high pressure in the veins, usually due to a blockage in the veins or weakness within the valves in the leg that prevent the backflow of blood into the leg as that blood is normally pumped out by the action of the calf muscles as we walk.
While surgery is sometimes used to treat venous ulcers by repairing or removing the veins, in the majority of cases compression bandages are used to treat the ulcers. Once healed, the use of compression hosiery is usually recommended to prevent the recurrence of such ulcers.
This study reviewed a number of randomized, controlled research trials that evaluated the benefits of compression bandages or hosiery for prevention of venous leg ulcers.
This study found one trial of 300 patients that compared the results of high compression hosiery with moderate compression hosiery in preventing the recurrence of venous ulcers over a five year period. While the trial seemed to indicate no significant reduction in ulcer recurrence as the result of wearing the higher compression hosiery, the trial found that compliance rates were significantly higher in those wearing the medium compression hosiery and that many of the trial patients switched from the high compression to moderate compression hosiery during the trial.
Although the trials reviewed did not compare compression versus no compression for the prevention of ulcer recurrence, not wearing compression hosiery was associated with higher incidence levels of ulcer recurrence in both main trials reviewed. The study reviewers found circumstantial evidence for the benefit of compression in reducing ulcer recurrence.
They also found evidence that recurrence rates may be lower when higher compression hosiery was used. Their recommendation was that the strongest level of compression hosiery that could be tolerated be used by patients seeking to prevent recurrence of venous ulcers.
Learn to Reduce Your Deep-Vein Thrombosis Risk
March is National Deep-Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, a time when organizations such as the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis and the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are making a special effort to educate people about the health risks that deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolisms can pose.
A Serious Health Issue
This education effort is one that is desperately needed. According to the American Heart Association, about 2 million Americans are affected by DVT and about 600,000 are hospitalized to treat DVT each year. Yet national surveys by groups such as the American Public Health Association have found that almost three-quarters of us have little or no awareness of DVT.
This lack of knowledge is critical because DVT can lead to very serious health complications and even death. Awareness of DVT, DVT prevention and what to do should it occur can help avoid the serious complications it can bring and can lower the incidence rate for DVT. Learning more about DVT can enable people to spot its symptoms earlier and get the necessary medical attention to prevent it from leading to more serious health issues.
Understanding the Problem and Its Symptoms
Deep-vein thrombosis happens when a blood clot (a thrombosis) forms in one of the large veins in our bodies. The most common place for this to occur is in the large veins within the calf or thigh. As this clot impairs or blocks the blood flow within the vein it can produce a number of symptoms:
While anyone experiencing such symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, you should know that as many as half of all DVT occurrences produce only minimal symptoms or no symptoms at all.
The reason for quick medical action when DVT symptoms do appear is that DVT can lead to pulmonary embolisms. This is when a portion of the blood clot breaks loose and travels through the circulatory system to the lungs. There, it can block a pulmonary artery or one of its branches and severely affect normal respiratory function. Symptoms can include sudden shortness of breath, chest pain that is aggravated by even normal breathing, and rapid heart and respiratory rates.
The consequences can be extremely serious. Current statistics show that of those who develop pulmonary embolisms, as many as 200,000 die each year. That's more deaths annually than breast cancer and AIDS.
Reducing Your DVT Risk
An important first step in reducing these figures is for more people to be aware of their risk for DVT and of the symptoms listed above that DVT will often bring. According to the Coalition to Prevent Deep-Vein Thrombosis, a number of things can increase one's risk for DVT or serve as a triggering event:
- Various heart or respiratory diseases
- Prior DVT episodes
- Advanced age
- Medical problems which limit mobility
- Prolonged hospitalization, especially from major surgery, such as joint replacements, that keep one immobile in bed for a long time
- Use of birth control pills
While it is important for any person of any age to be alert for the symptoms that might indicate DVT, it is especially important for anyone who may be facing two or more of the above factors that increase risk. It is also essential to remember that various other, less serious conditions can display symptoms similar to DVT. These can include muscle strains, skin infections and phlebitis (inflammation of the veins). For anyone with a risk factor associated with DVT, the safe path when symptoms appear is to let a medical professional conduct the specialized tests that clarify whether DVT is the cause, or if it is something less threatening.
Taking Steps to Prevent DVT
Acting quickly when symptoms that may indicate DVT occur is very important, but there are also actions people can take to reduce the chance of DVT occurring. That is especially vital for anyone who is at higher risk for this health condition.
Obesity is a controllable health factor that research has linked to higher risk for DVT (as well as for a variety of other health issues). Taking steps to reach to a healthier weight can be one of the best decisions you can make. Smoking is another health factor over which we have control and that studies show will increase the risk for a variety of circulatory problems, including DVT. While stopping smoking or losing significant amounts of weight are never easy goals to achieve, today there are a wide variety of healthy ways to help in achieving these goals. Talk to your physician for more information on smoking cessation and weight reduction programs that may be available in your area.
Staying physically active, especially during periods of recuperation that limit mobility, is another means for reducing DVT risk. Again, it is vital to talk with your physician about the risk of DVT and what you may be able to do, within your current medical limits, to be more physically active and at less risk for the problem. But, whenever possible, increasing your level of exercise is almost certainly going to reduce your risk for DVT and many other health issues.
Quality compression hosiery is another means of reducing DVT risk, especially for those with known circulatory problems in the legs. Quality support hose can help prevent pooling of blood in the legs and the subsequent formation of blood clots that often occur in people recovering from medical procedures, such as surgery or cancer treatment, or who have other health problems that may limit mobility. Compression hosiery can also help reduce the possibility of circulatory problems in the legs for women who are pregnant. A women's risk of circulatory problems has been found to be six times greater when she is pregnant, and pulmonary embolisms are the leading cause of maternal deaths associated with childbirth.
Make time this month to learn more about Deep-Vein Thrombosis and the risk it may present to you. The Internet offers several good sources for additional information on DVT and its prevention:
While there is no way to guarantee that DVT will never affect you, learning more about this health condition can help you do all that's possible to reduce its risk of occurrence, to recognize its symptoms early, and to minimize the health problems it might bring should it occur.
Minor Leg Problems - Causes & Cures
Suffer a serious injury to your leg and it's probably no mystery why you may have leg pain, muscle cramps or swelling in your legs or ankles. But often many of us find we're suffering from minor leg problems and pain, but unsure as to what the cause may really be.
Aging Affects Leg And Foot Health
The truth is that many things can affect the health of our legs. Unfortunately, one of the most common is simply getting older. As we age all of us lose muscle mass as a natural part of the aging process. Since our body depends upon its muscles, not just for lifting things but also to aid in ciruclation, that loss of muscle mass can result in a variety of problems, especially for our legs and feet.
A common problem is that reduced amount of muscle makes it easier to strain our leg muscles by doing too much. It might be a change at our job that has us on our feet more or suddenly walking a lot more than we used to. Perhaps it's a weekend outing where we take a nice long, but slightly strenuous walk. The result can be swelling, numbness, tingling, cramps or changes in color or temperature of our legs or feet, all symptoms that can be caused by putting more strain on our feet and legs than they are normally used to.
A second result of aging is that some parts of our bodies do begin to wear out. If the valves in the arteries in our legs, for example, don't operate as efficiently as they once did, the result can be a pooling of blood in our lower extremities. That can mean swollen ankles, varicose veins, constantly cold feet and similar leg problems.
Medications Can Be The Source Of Foot And Leg Problems
Another common, but often overlooked source of leg health problems, can be the medications many of us take. A very common one for many women, birth control pills, can increase a woman's risk for blood clots and the pain and potentially serious problems that can come with such clots. That risk is much higher for women who also smoke.
Some other common medications, such as diuretics (water pills), blood pressure medicines, medications to reduce cholesterol, and even anti-nausea medicines, can cause muscle cramps as one of their common side-effects. Estrogens are another commonly prescribed medication for many women that can result in leg pain as a side effect.
The Effects Of Alcohol And Smoking
Sometimes foot and leg pain may be associated with lifestyle choices we make. The consumption of alcohol, especially heavy drinking, has a clear association with circulatory problems, muscle cramps and blood clots. Similarly, those who use tobacco also are putting themselves at high risk for similar leg problems, as well as for a number of other serious health issues.
Don't Ignore Leg And Foot Problems
With so many things associated with leg and foot problems, it may seem almost inevitable that you will suffer from leg pain of some sort. In reality, however, while we all may have to expect some stiffness and soreness as part of the natural aging process, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk for serious foot and leg health issues.
An important first step is to talk with your personal doctor if you are having persistent or serious leg pain or other leg or foot-related problems. While swelling or cramping in your legs may seem only a minor problem, and most likely is, if it is a long-term problem for you, or causing significant pain, it might be a sign of a serious health issue. Your health professional can diagnose what the real cause is.
If your problem is recent and fairly minor in nature, chances are usually good that it will clear up soon on its own. However, you want to monitor that the problem really is improving, and you want to analyze what the cause of the leg problems might be. Often, that's relatively easy to figure out. If you realize that you have changed your level of activity recently, it may simply be that you have tried to do too much too quickly, resulting in some simple stress or a minor injury.
You should also review the medications you are currently be taking. If you believe they might be related to your leg pain, call the physician who prescribed them to discuss the matter.
Taking Steps To Improve Foot And Leg Health
You can also take steps to minimize the leg pain, cramping or swelling you are experiencing, and to try and make sure it does not happen again. Increasing your level of exercise, slowly and safely, is one way to address the problem. Although we may lose muscle mass as we age, exercising more can help us regain some of that muscle. As importantly, exercise tones our muscles, helping not only the muscles to operate more efficiently, but also helping our overall health. Good leg muscles are part of the power that helps our heart pump the blood through the veins in our legs. Let those leg muscles get out of shape, however, and you automatically make your heart work harder to move the blood from your lower extremities back to your heart and lungs, and you increase your risk for blood clots, swollen ankles and varicose veins.
A key factor, however, is to be smart about increasing the amount of exercise in your life. If you are in poor health, or past the age of 45, or have been living a very sedentary life, talk with your doctor first before undertaking any program of moderate to strenuous exercise. It's also important, when you do start adding additional exercise, that you begin slowly and take your time. If you are out of shape or overweight, that's not something that happened overnight. Be realistic and give your body time to adapt to slowly increasing levels of physical activity. Don't overdo and you won't be making your foot or leg problems any worse, but instead will be making changes to insure better future health.
Compression Hosiery Can Offer Many Benefits
Quality compression hosiery can also play a big role in minimizing leg pain and swelling, as well as in preventing further leg problems. For both men and women, graduated compression hosiery provides pressure that helps reduce pooling of the blood in the lower extremities and that makes it easier for the heart to efficiently circulate the blood through our feet and legs and back to the heart. While some peope think compression hosiery is only important for those with an existing medical condition affecting the feet or legs, the truth is that compression socks or panty hose can benefit almost everyone. They are particularly important for people who spend a great deal of their time each day either standing on the feet or sitting in one position, such as at a desk.
While there is no way to guarantee that you will never suffer from cramps, swelling or just simple leg pain, there clearly are many things you can do to minimize that risk. Stay informed about health issues, learn about the medications you are taking, exercise to stay fit and consider compression hosiery to minimize potential problems. They're all simply steps that can mean better leg and foot health.
Pregnancy and Swollen Extremities
Pregnancy brings a variety of changes in a woman's body. One of the most common is "edema," the medical term for excess fluid collecting in the body's tissues and causing swelling. It's most often noticed in the legs and feet, especially when ankles and toes begin to swell.
Some swelling of the legs, hands and even the face during pregnancy is a very normal, though often annoying, occurrence. While there are a number of things that can be done to minimize the condition, it's also important to be aware that some cases of excessive or sudden swelling may result from more severe problems that should be discussed with a doctor.
Why Swelling Occurs During Pregnancy
One reason for swelling of the extremities during pregnancy is the changes in blood chemistry that occur in a pregnant woman. Coupled with the normal tendency of pregnant women to retain water, these blood chemistry changes sometimes cause bodily fluids to shift into and collect in the body's tissues.
This excess fluid is most noticed in the legs, feet and hands, since these are the parts of the body furthest removed from the pumping action of the heart. In addition, the effect of gravity also makes it easier for fluids to collect in the legs, ankles and feet.
Another contributing factor is the extra pressure that a growing uterus places upon the veins that run through the pelvis. That pressure can slow the circulation of blood in the legs, making it easier for blood to pool there and for fluid from the veins to be forced into the tissues of the feet and ankles.
The pressure from the expanding uterus often effects the vena cava, the large vein on the right side of the body that is the main path for the blood from the legs on its journey back to the heart. One way to relieve this pressure on this major vein is for the pregnant woman to lie on her side, especially her left side, since that removes the pressure on the vena cava.
Should Leg Swelling Be a Source of Concern?
As noted above, swelling of the extremities is a fairly common condition during pregnancy. While it certainly should be discussed with one's physician, in most cases taking a few simple steps can help minimize the condition and reduce any problems it may be causing.
However, there are times when swelling can indicate a more serious problem:
- Raise your feet whenever possible. If at work, use a stool or pile of books when sitting to elevate your feet.
- one leg being significantly more swollen than the other
- excessive swelling of one leg accompanied by pain or tenderness in the calf or thigh
Any of these conditions require an immediate call to a doctor or clinic for an evaluation of the problem.
Steps To Minimize Swelling Of The Legs And Feet
Often the major problem of edema is that the swelling makes an already uncomfortable pregnant woman feel even larger, more uncomfortable and more ungainly. This is especially true since most such swelling occurs in the third trimester, often is most noticeable late in the day when she is more tired, and is more common during the heat of summer.
There are a variety of things a woman can do to both minimize the amount of swelling that takes place, and to minimize any discomfort swelling might bring:
- Raise your feet whenever possible. If at work, use a stool or pile of books when sitting to elevate your feet.
- Don't cross your legs when sitting. Crossed legs put additional pressure on veins and help limit circulation.
- When sitting, exercise your feet. Stretch out your leg, heel first, and gently flex your foot to help stretch the calf muscles. Wiggle your toes and lift your foot and rotate your foot at the ankle.
- Don't sit for too long. Take frequent breaks to stand and go for a short walk to help keep the blood circulating.
- Get regular exercise, such as walking, swimming or riding an exercise bike, that will help keep your leg muscles in tone and help improve circulation.
- Choose comfortable shoes that will accommodate moderate swelling of your feet, and avoid socks or stockings with top bands that press tightly on your ankles or calves.
- Drink lots of water, eat nutritious foods and avoid salty, sugary junk foods.
- Wear waist-high maternity support stockings. These specially designed hosiery provide graduated support from the ankle upward that both aids circulation and limits fluid retention in the tissue of the legs. Putting them on first thing in the morning helps prevent blood from pooling in the legs and ankles.
While swelling of the legs and feet during pregnancy can be bothersome, it is seldom a serious problem. The main thing to remember is that this is a temporary condition and that this swelling will be gone very soon after giving birth.
Should "Economy Class Syndrome" Worry Both Jet-Setters and Armchair Travelers?
It seems that today's airline travelers already have plenty to worry about — long security lines, baggage searches, x-raying of shoes, and being pulled out of line for special searches. It doesn't seem fair to also tell someone heading off on a long airplane flight that they may also be facing a very real health risk. But that certainly is the case.
A Potential Health Problem for Travelers and Non-Travelers
A few years ago there was a considerable amount of press related to "economy class syndrome," the term invented to describe the problem of blood clots that seem to develop in the deep veins of the legs after long periods of sitting in cramped conditions, such as on a long airplane flight. But while there has been less recent press attention, the condition, and the often serious health problems it can bring, has certainly not gone away.
Although the problem of developing these leg blood clots is most often linked to airplane travel, the truth is that it can occur in any situation where someone is seated for a long period of time with little or no leg movement. While cramped economy seating in airplanes are the most common example of conditions that can lead to this problem, anyone who spends long periods of inactivity in a seated position may face the problem. Extremely long car drives, jobs that require long periods of sitting with few opportunities to get up and move about, or semi-invalids with medical conditions that make getting up from a chair and walking around a difficult task, are all examples of people in non-flying situations that still could face economy class syndrome. All of these situations can result in a lack of leg movement that results in the slowing of circulation of blood in the legs, encouraging pooling of the blood in the lower legs and feet, and allowing small blood clots to form in the deep veins of the legs.
While there are no firm statistics as to how many people might develop such blood clots during a typical, long distance airplane flight, many experts believe it is not an uncommon condition. In most cases, however, once the person gets up and begins moving again, the clot dissolves and any pain that may have been associated with the clot disappears. Indeed, most people who may develop such clots and the accompanying calf muscle pain that is the most common symptom, usually dismiss the problem as just a minor muscle cramp since it disappears soon after they begin to walk around. Some experts believe that most airline passengers who experience economy class syndrome are probably unaware of what the problem really was.
Blood Clots That Can Lead to a Variety of Health Problems
However, there have been numerous cases of serious consequences from these deep vein clots when they break loose and move to other parts of the body. One of the most common problems is when the clot travels to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism. For some people the result is simply mild chest pain with perhaps some coughing that may be mistaken for a mild case of the flu or some other respiratory illness. In some cases, however, the pain may be significant enough that it may appear to be a heart attack and may lead to initial treatment for such an attack. And in the most serious cases the blood clot may actually block the pulmonary artery, leading to severe heart complications or even death.
Taking Steps for Prevention
While all of that may sound somewhat frightening, the reality is that economy class syndrome can easily be prevented for the average person with some very simple steps. Many airlines now even include instructions in their flight magazines or seat-back information cards on how to minimize your risk for this condition. The simplest steps include:
- wearing loose-fitting clothing that won't restrict circulation
- avoiding alcohol and caffeine, both of which can help dehydrate your body
- drinking plenty of non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages before and during long flights
- periodically getting up from your seat and taking a short walk
- while seated, clenching your toes and rotating your feet at the ankles to help exercise the muscles of your calves and increase blood flow.
If At High Risk for Blood Clots, Talk To Your Doctor
For someone who is at higher risk for developing deep vein blood clots, there are additional actions that can be taken. Some factors that increase the risk for the development of blood clots include being overweight, smoking and estrogen therapy, as well as a history that includes cancer, the past development of blood clots, or prolonged recent periods of bed rest.
For such travelers, it's a good idea to consult with their personal physician before traveling on a long airplane flight. A doctor might recommend taking aspirin to thin the blood or some other medication that might reduce the risk for developing blood clots.
Graduated compression hosiery is another option that is often recommended to reduce the risk of economy class syndrome. Such hosiery, available these days in a variety of fashionable styles for both men and women, help provide gradually reduced pressure from the ankles up to the calves, helping to keep the blood vessels from relaxing during periods of inactivity and thus helping to prevent the pooling of blood in the legs that makes blood clots more common.
So while the pressures of extra security, longer lines and more crowded planes may be making long airplane trips less enjoyable than they once were, worries about economy class syndrome should not be among the burdens of travel you have to face. Simply staying well-hydrated, doing some simple leg exercises, getting up periodically and wearing compression hosiery can all help ensure that this is not a health problem you will have to face.
So Why Are Your Feet So Cold?
Our circulatory system is a wondrous part of our bodies, but it can also be a very troubling and threatening part when all is not going well. The health problems that affect our legs and feet can be painful, activity limiting, and may lead to serious health issues.
For some health problems, particularly those associated with the veins in our legs through which our blood flows back to our heart and lungs, the underlying cause of the problems may be difficult or impossible to reverse. If your veins have lost their elasticity or the valves within the veins are malfunctioning, it may be a permanent condition. That's why health aids, such as high quality compression and support hose, are important as a means of offering relief and treatment.
But some other leg and foot problems can be dealt with in a manner that can either minimize the problem, or actually make it go away. While many such problems require medical treatment, there are also some conditions over which you have a great deal of control. Cold feet is one such problem where you may be able to help yourself.
While having cold feet may not seem a very serious problem, it can be annoying, sometime embarrassing, or painful for those troubled by the condition. More importantly, it can be an indication of a real health problem.
The reason for cold feet is a very simple one – there isn't a sufficient supply of warm blood flowing through your toes and feet. There can be, however, several causes for such a problem.
Medical Conditions Related To Cold Feet
Raynaud's Disease — this is a not uncommon disorder in which the person's hands and feet get very cold and even numb. It usually afflicts young women between the ages of twenty and forty, happens only occasionally and comes as an attack that occurs without warning and that may just as suddenly end. Winter is usually the time of the year when such attacks will happen.
The disease itself is not a serious health threat, but it is worth checking with your doctor about since there are other, more serious conditions, which may mirror these symptoms. Usually wearing warmer clothing can help lessen or minimize the attacks. It is also very important to avoid smoking which can help bring on these attacks. See below for more information on the role of cigarettes in circulatory problems.
Raynaud's Syndrome — this is another disorder which is brought on by cold temperatures and which strikes as a sudden attack. It comes from the inability of the arteries to dilate and send more blood to where it is supposed to go.
This illness, while similar to Raynaud's Disease in its effects, can be more serious in that it is usually linked to underlying health problems, such as collagen diseases, lead or nicotine toxicity, or some form of neuro-vascular trauma. Your physician can offer advice on how to treat the problem, which in some severe cases might even include surgery as a treatment of last resort.
Thromboangiitis obliterans — this syndrome is more commonly known as Buerger's Disease. It usually affects young men under the age of forty. Smoking is the direct cause of this illness, which can be quite serious. With it, the small arteries in the legs and feet constrict and don't let the proper amount of blood pass through. In this disease, that lack of blood flow causes muscle pain cramps and pain, and can lead to tissue becoming ulcerous and even gangrenous. Not smoking and avoiding those who do smoke is an important step in dealing with this illness, but it is also essential to seek medical treatment.
Cold Feet And Your Emotions
It might surprise you to know that your nervous system has an effect on the blood flow in your body. When your nervous system helps to shut down some of that blood flow, the result can be a reduction in the temperature of your extremities, such as your legs and feet.
When something has disturbed you or left you under a considerable amount of stress, your body's nerves may constrict the small arterioles in your feet. This limits their ability to carry blood and results in you having cold feet.
Most of us have also experienced the opposite of this, when we get excited or angry and our nervous system deals with the excess pressure by expanding the arterioles and sending excess blood pumping through. The medical name for this is vasodilation and it can leave you feeling hot all over.
Things You Can Control To Help Prevent Cold Feet
Although virtually everyone is aware of the heart disease and cancer risk issues related to cigarette smoking, most people are not aware that smoking tobacco is also a major cause of cold feet. Even when there is no illness or other complicating condition, the simple act of smoking a cigarette can significantly lower the temperature of your feet.
The reason for this is that nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that causes your blood vessels to tighten up or constrict, thus lessening the amount of blood that can flow through them. While nicotine affects your entire nervous system, the places you most easily notice the effect is in your hands and feet. When the nicotine causes the arterioles in your feet to constrict there is a reduced flow of warm blood and your feet become colder.
The effect can be surprisingly large and long-lasting. Studies have found that inhaling just one cigarette can reduce the blood flow to your feet by as much as 50%, and that the blood flow may not return to normal for an hour after that single cigarette. For even a moderate smoker, that can mean cold feet is an ongoing condition as the nicotine of each new cigarette once again acts to limit the blood flow in your feet.
Stopping smoking is therefore an important step, both to avoid all the serious health risks that come with tobacco usage, and to increase the blood flow to your feet.
Exercise is another effective way to get warmer feet. Regular exercise that improves the condition of your legs and feet also improves the circulation in your legs and feet. Simply taking a walk each day can be an easy way to improve your overall health and to warm up those chilly feet.
If you suffer from cold feet on either a regular or periodic basis, talk to your physician to make sure it is not a serious, health-threatening condition. If you are a smoker, or someone getting very little exercise (or, even worse, both), then start now on changing that. A non-smoking, more active you will also probably end up being a much healthier you with much warmer feet.
Summer Travel and Your Health
The approach of warmer weather has many of us thinking about summer vacation travel and the opportunity to explore new places and meet new people. Unfortunately, in our travel planning too many of us fail to consider those things that will make our future travel not only interesting and enjoyable, but also a healthy time. Preparing now can minimize the chances of a health problem ruining your travel enjoyment.
Most of our travel planning, quite naturally, goes into deciding what places we want to visit, how we'll get there, where we'll stay, what we'll do, and the numerous other decisions involved in almost any trip. Whether it's a 300-mile drive or a 10-hour plane trip to the other side of the world, there are decisions to be considered and plans to be made. Be sure to start early in thinking about your health and how it relates to your upcoming travel.
Are You in Shape for Your Travel Plans?
It's easy to forget that even the most leisurely vacation may entail higher levels of physical activity than we're normally used to. While your travel plans may center on lounging on a beautiful beach, once the actual vacation begins you may find that you're much more active than you originally planned.
You may discover opportunities for hiking or biking once you're on the road, or come across historical sites or commercial tourist attractions that require long walks and extended time on your feet. For a young, active adult in good health this should present no problems. But if you're a little older, or not as active as you used to be, or are facing current health problems, even one busy vacation day can leave you with enough aches and pains to make the remainder of your trip much less pleasurable than you had hoped it would be. And the temptations of travel and seeing or doing something new often makes us put caution aside and do more than we're normally used to doing.
That's why starting a program now of moderate exercise will help you better enjoy whatever upcoming travel plans you have. Remember to first check with your physician, especially if you have any physical problems or currently have little physical activity in your daily life. Just a daily walk now can help ensure that you'll be able to stay up with the group as you tour that old battlefield or historic church on this summer's trip.
If you currently aren't very active, and you have your doctor's okay, start off slowly to increase your level of physical activity. Day One might be just a stroll to the corner, while by Day Five you may be up to a brisker walk around the block. Start slowly, and don't overdo, but gradually keep adding more effort and intensity and you'll soon find you're feeling more fit and confident about your physical abilities.
Can You Change Those Bad Health Habits?
Planning for upcoming travel is also a good time to move to a healthier lifestyle. Increased physical activity, of course, is a great step in that direction. Your upcoming travel can also be a good incentive to stop smoking if you are currently a smoker. Not only is finding a place to smoke harder in many places these days, but the health benefits that come from stopping smoking are simply enormous.
From helping you to breath better for the rigors of travel to reducing your risk for DVT (deep vein thrombosis - the formation of blood clots that sometimes can occur on long driving trips or airplane flights), not smoking offers real health benefits to every person. And, for the long term, not smoking also means lower risk for several forms of cancer, heart disease, strokes and numerous other health issues. Talk to your physician now about the programs and medical help that's available to help you in smoking cessation.
If you're currently overweight that can be another health issue that can make summer travel more difficult. The rigors of most travel today, whether going by airplane or driving yourself, cause most of us more than enough stress already. Your body doesn't need the extra stress and work that excess weight requires. A sensible plan of healthy eating and slow weight loss can leave you feeling ready to really enjoy all the opportunities that a summer trip may bring. And even if there isn't enough time to get down to your ideal weight (and weight loss should be slow - in most cases no more than a pound a week), shedding even a few excess pounds will have you feeling better about yourself and more capable of enjoying your travel, both the planned and unexpected activities.
Focusing on developing healthy eating now can also help combat the extra pounds that may creep on during travel. Whether it's the temptations of a cruise ship's buffets or the larger servings and heavier foods that often come with eating out, start thinking now about how to avoid having your vacation turn into a nutritional disaster.
One simple way is to start paying more attention now to what you eat and how much you eat. There's no need to avoid favorite foods or to have to deprive yourself of fun eating experiences once you're on your trip. Instead, learn how to balance your daily food intake, planning for a light lunch, for example, when you know dinner is going to be an enjoyable, but high-calorie experience. Establishing healthy eating patterns now makes it easier to eat healthier when on the road and in dietary situations that offer extra temptations.
Don't Let Travel Inactivity Endanger Your Health
The actual act of traveling today, though it may get you relatively quickly from one place to another, usually requires a great amount of inactivity on your part. Whether it's being long waits in airports, being strapped in a narrow airplane seat for hours, or passively sitting in a car watching the miles go by, modern travel requires very little physical activity. And that can present a health risk for many people.
The problem is commonly called "economy class syndrome." Although named for the cramped seating space available in economy class on most airplanes, it isn't a health issue confined to only airplane travel. The lack of movement as you sit on long trips, whether in a plane, a car, a bus or train, encourages the pooling of blood in your legs. In some cases that can also lead to the formation of blood clots in the veins of the leg. To a traveler on a long airplane flight it might just seem like a cramp in the calf muscles, but it actually might be a blood clot.
In most cases such clots present no danger, with the clot dissolving and the pain disappearing once you're up and walking around again. But in some cases a portion of the clot may break off before it is able to dissolve, with that clot traveling through the circulatory system to the lungs where it can lodge as a pulmonary embolism. Such embolisms may only cause minor pain and shortness of breath in people, or they may become a much more serious health problem, blocking a pulmonary artery and leading to heart complications and possibly even death.
While that all adds up to a lot of bad news, the good news is that such clots and embolisms are usually easy to avoid. On long airplane flights, for example, simply getting up and taking a short walk up and down the aisle will help minimize the risk for such problems. So will doing some simple leg stretches and ankle rotations as you sit in your seat. Such activity stimulates the leg muscles, helping them to better pump the blood through the veins of your leg and avoid the pooling of blood that might otherwise occur.
Similar activity can also help prevent leg problems on long car trips. Instead of driving for long stretches of time, make it a habit to stop every hour or two for just a short break. Take that opportunity to get out, stretch and take even just a short walk. That not only can helps avoid possible blood clots, but will also help keep you more alert and focused on your driving when you get back on the road.
Other suggestions that help minimize the risk for economy class syndrome include wearing loose fitting clothing, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and taking the time to massage your legs and feet periodically to help stimulate circulation.
An important tool to help fight economy class syndrome, no matter your mode of travel, is a good pair of compression travel hosiery. Available today in a variety of styles and colors, these support hose are a stylish way to provide graduated pressure that helps discourage the pooling of blood in your legs during periods of inactivity. The gentle pressure of the travel support hose assists the natural movement of the blood in your legs back up to your lungs and heart. Combine the use of such travel support hose with regular activity for your legs and feet as you travel and you'll be doing a great deal to minimize your risk for travel-related leg problems. And planning ahead in this case simply means remembering to order several pair of travel support hose before you leave on that trip. Not only will that minimize the health risks associated with the inactivity of travel, but you'll find they will also make your legs and feet feel better when you're climbing all those steps or walking long distances at some historical site.
Plan Ahead And Be Prepared
The goal of virtually all summer vacation travel is to relax and enjoy yourself. Doing just a small bit of health planning before your trip can greatly increase the odds that you'll achieve that goal. That's especially important as we age, or if you are currently facing existing health issues. Circulatory and respiratory problems don't have to mean curtailing all your travel plans. Instead, planning now to do all you can to minimize how those problems affect your travel, and talking to your doctor about your upcoming travel plans, can help ensure that you enjoy your travel to the fullest.
Take the time before you pack that suitcase to do both travel and health planning and this most certainly will be a happier and healthier travel season for you.
Surgery, Compression Hosiery and the Prevention of Venous Thromboembolism
While venous thromboembolism, the formation of blood clots in the veins of the legs, can occur for a variety of reasons, some common factors in their formation include surgery, a bone fracture or a prolonged period of immobility. While there were once questions as to the effectiveness of compression hosiery in reducing the risk of venous thromboembolism, particularly in post-operative situations, recent studies clearly show that quality compression hosiery can play a major role in the prevention of this condition.
Deep venous thromboembolism can be a very serious health problem. The formation of these blood clots in the legs can cause pain in the leg, while also impeding normal circulation within the leg. An even more serious problem is when such clots break loose and travel through the bloodstream, possibly reaching the lungs or other organs of the body where their effect can be extremely serious, or even deadly.
Studying the Effectiveness of Compression Hosiery in Reducing Risk
The role that compression hosiery can play in significantly reducing the risk for post-operative thromboembolism was highlighted in a Canadian meta-study conducted by researchers in Hamilton, Ontario. The researchers began by doing a review of published research articles which had examined the effects of compression hosiery in post-operative situations. The researchers identified more than 122 articles in peer-reviewed medical journals, and then did an analysis based on 11 of the broadest, strongest and most scientifically valid studies reported in these journals. These studies covered some 1752 moderate-risk patients.
What the analysis found was that the use of graduated compression hosiery in post-operative patients helped reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism by as much as 68%. While the patients studied were primarily at moderate risk due to the type of surgery they had had (mainly abdominal surgery), the analysis nevertheless found 164 cases of venous thromboembolism in the control group patients who did not use graduated compression hosiery.
However, for a similar number of patients whose treatment included the use of graduated compression hosiery, there were only 58 episodes of venous thromboembolism occurring, a clear and significant decrease in the number of cases.
Use of Compression Hosiery to Prevent Thromboemboli Increasing
In recent years, physicians have become much more aware of the preventive value of graduated compression hosiery in preventing deep vein thromboembolism. Clearly, as demonstrated by these studies, there is clear and significant benefits to the patient when compression hosiery is ordered or recommended by a physician following surgery. Of course, such hosiery is only effective when the patient uses it on an ongoing basis, as directed by his or her physician.
Of course, the use of graduated compression hosiery is not a guarantee that an episode of venous thromboembolism will not occur. There are a large variety of factors — from the type of surgery to the patient's age to other complicating health issues — that can affect the risk for venous thromboembolism that any particular individual is facing. However, as a considerable amount of research has shown, there clearly is a significant health benefit and risk reduction when it is medically determined that graduated compression hosiery should be used.
Taking Steps To Prevent Vein Disease
Medical science has various theories, but no definitive answers as to what causes vein disease in our legs. But there is general agreement that there are a variety of things that we all can and should be doing to minimize our risk for vein disease, and to slow its progress should it be affecting us.
Being overweight increases our risk for a variety of health problems, from heart disease to cancer. While the specific links between obesity and vein diseases are not understood, some studies have shown a correlation between excessive weight and higher risk for vein diseases and their associated health problems.
One theory holds that the increase body weight, characterized by increased amounts of body fat, exerts extra pressure on the circulatory system. This may be especially true in the pelvic area, where the veins from our legs re-enter the main body cavity. When these veins are compressed by extra body fat, it can increase the pressure on the valves within the upper veins of the leg, helping to lead to the failure of those valves and resulting in circulatory problems in our legs.
While weight loss is difficult for most of us to achieve, it is a goal worth working toward because of the many health benefits and decreased health risks that come with maintaining a proper weight.
One possible contributor to increased risk for vein disease may be the diets we choose. Most western diets tend to be low in fiber. High fiber diets, however, have been shown in various studies to help decrease risk for various types of cancer and heart disease.
There is also advice from various medical authorities that a high fiber diet may help decrease our risk for vein disease. One reason may be that a diet high in fiber helps move fecal matter through our digestive system more easily and quickly. The result can be that our colons empty quicker. One study found that the colons of people eating a high fiber diet emptied in less than half the time (35 hours versus 77 hours) of those eating a diet low in fiber.
There are various theories as to why a high fiber diet can help prevent vein disease. One is that the colon itself presses down on the veins from the legs as they head back toward our heart through the pelvic area. When the colon is full of waste, especially for an extended period of time, it increases the amount of pressure on those veins.
Some physicians also believe that the more frequent and easier bowel movements associated with a high fiber diet help avoid the straining that can come with the constipation often associated with low fiber diets. That straining to pass a stool puts additional pressure on the abdominal muscles, and may also increase pressure on the leg veins, thus making their work harder and increasing the chances of damage to the valves in the veins of the leg.
Increasing fiber in your diet is, however, relatively easy to do. Adding more fresh fruits and vegetables is one easy way. You may also want to look for whole-grain versions of prepared foods, such as breads and cereals, that will help increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Legumes, such as beans, are another healthy food high in fiber.
Staying active appears to be one of the best things that anyone can do to prevent or minimize vein disease. While the valves within the veins in our legs are one important element that helps prevent varicose veins and other vein problems in our legs, the muscles that surround our veins also play an important role.
As we walk or move our legs, the expanding and contracting of those muscles helps compress our veins and push the blood up our veins and back toward our hearts. When we sit or stand with little or no movement for extended periods of time, we are making our heart do almost all the work of returning our blood -- against the pressure of gravity -- from our legs to our upper bodies.
But when we are walking and moving our legs, the contractions of our muscles help in pushing the blood out of our legs. And having tight, fit leg muscles also helps to apply a constant pressure to the veins in our legs, making it more difficult for them to become stretched and distended, which is what happens when we suffer from vein disease.
For anyone over the age of fifty or with existing health problems, it is almost always essential to discuss with your doctor the start of any new exercise program. In most cases, however, you will find that your physician will be very supportive of an increase in exercise, not only for the help it can provide in fighting vein disease, but for the numerous other health benefits that come with being more active and staying physically fit.
Being active does not have to mean heading for the gym and pumping iron. For most of us, simply getting even small amounts of increase physically activity in our lives will provide considerable benefits. Walking is one of the easiest and best things we all can do.
Health experts recommend, for maximum health benefit, about thirty minutes of physical activity most days of the week. A half hour walk can actually be a pleasant activity and one that most of us can fit into our lives. But if you find you are too busy to do it all at once, there is just as much benefit in breaking it up into sections. Find three ten-minute periods to take a walk, and you'll gain almost the same benefit as doing it all at once.
Quality compression hosiery can help in the prevention of vein problems by providing support that assists the veins in the legs and helps keep them from becoming stretched and distended. While most people associate compression hosiery with seniors or those recovering from various medical procedures, the truth is that compression hosiery can be an important preventive in relation to vein diseases for virtually anyone.
Modern compression hosiery is now made out of materials and in styles that makes it fashionable and attractive for anyone to wear. It can be especially important for someone who spends long hours either on his or her feet or sitting behind a desk. Modern jobs that keep us relatively stationary during the day tend to provide insufficient exercise for the muscles in our legs. The result is that the veins in our legs are under higher pressure all day, not having the benefit of the constant muscle contractions that come with large amounts of walking to help move the spent blood out of our legs. Top quality compression hosiery provides pressure to protect the veins in our legs and help overcome the problems that come with being forced to be inactive for most of the day.
While the exact causes of most forms of vein disease may still be a medical mystery, weight control, proper diet, sufficient exercise, and the assistance of compression hosiery can certainly help to minimize the risk of vein disease in your life.
Understanding Leg Ulcers
Compression hosiery is often part of the treatment program for leg ulcers (chronic venus leg ulceration). Such ulcers require medical treatment in order to deal with the cause of the problem, to relieve the associated pain, and to prevent more serious health issues that may otherwise arise.
Causes of Leg Ulcers
The most common cause is simply poor blood circulation, most commonly caused by the inability of the veins to properly return blood from the legs back to the heart. The usual cause of such circulation problems is a weakening of the one-way valves within the leg that prevent the blood from returning to the leg after it is pumped out by the normal contraction of our leg muscles.
It is not currently know exactly how or why poor vein circulation causes a leg ulcer to occur.
Leg Ulcer Symptoms
- leg ulcers are usually found on the lower part of the leg or on the ankle
- the ulcer appears as a sunken, asymmetrically shaped wound
- the edge of the ulcer is usually clearly defined
- the surrounding skin is intact, but inflamed
- the surrounding skin may be pigmented, hardened or calloused
- a yellowish-white pus may be present
- there may be pain, usually when standing
- the leg will usually exhibit varicose veins
The Risk Factors for Leg Ulcers
- Old age is a primary factor simply because our circulation in the extremes of our bodies, such as the legs, becomes less efficient as we age.
- Varicose veins, usually caused by problems with the one-way valves in our legs, are veins that have been stretched and allow blood to pool in the vein.
- Smoking - tobacco constricts the vessels of the circulatory system
- arterial disease - when someone has associated diseases of the arteries, vein problems are more likely
- Diabetes and arthritis can increase the risk of leg ulcers.
- Pressure sores, sometimes called bed sores, are damage to the skin caused by the constant pressure or friction of those who are bed-bound
- Medication - some cardiovascular drugs can contribute to leg edema and changes in circulation
Dealing With Leg Ulcers
Leg ulcers are very treatable. If you have any of the symptoms that may indicate a leg ulcer, or may be at high risk for such ulcers due to your age or other conditions, it is important to check with your physician and talk about whether venous leg ulceration is a problem for you.
Understanding Support Stockings and Compression Hosiery
It can seem mysterious at first. Socks and hosiery that can make you feel better and prevent health problems simply by squeezing your legs when worn? Or unknown product categories, like 20-25mmHG compression? How do you know that compression weight level to choose?
Well, admittedly it may seem mysterious and confusing in the beginning, but support stocking and compression hosiery are actually very simple and not difficult to understand at all.
What Is Compression Hosiery?
For example, is the name "support stocking" or "compression hosiery"? Actually, they both mean the same thing when you're talking about genuine, quality products in this field. While some common, inexpensive socks or panty hose may claim to be "support stockings," they often are simply hosiery that has been made to squeeze your leg when worn. Genuine, gradient compression hosiery is actually a more accurate term, since it describes a high quality product that is manufactured to provide a measurable level of compression that has been proven to provide significant health benefits.
What these products provide is called gradient compression, which means that the amount of compression (the pressure on your leg) is the greatest at the ankle and then decreases as it moves up the leg. This gradient compression encourages circulation by pumping the blood through the ankles with increase force. Producing hosiery that provides a carefully measured, yet varying amount of compression for your leg, is a complicated process that requires careful manufacturing control.
Understanding Compression Measurements
And those mysterious numbers with the "mmHG" after them? That's simply how the amount of compression is measures. What the mmHG means is "millimeters of mercury." (Remember that high school chemistry class when you had to memorize the chemical abbreviations? Yes, HG was the one for mercury.) That type of measurement is the same one used in weather forecasting for measuring atmospheric pressure. Low pressure and you can expect stormy weather.
In compression hosiery, the higher the number in front of the "mmHG," the more compression or support that particular product will be providing. In general there are three levels of compression hosiery products:
• 15-20mmHG is commonly called "firm compression." This level of support is often used to prevent health problems in the leg. People who spend a great deal of time on their feet each day, or who are stuck sitting in cramped quarters for a long time (such as on a long airline flight or simply sitting behind a desk all day), find this level of support can bring almost immediate relief while also helping avoid health issues such as blood clots, swollen ankles or legs, or varicose veins. This level of compression may also be recommended by doctors for conditions such as minor leg swelling or mild cases of varicose veins.
• 20-25mmHG is referred to as "extra-firm compression." This level of compression can help relieve moderate to severe varicose veins and is often recommended or prescribed by doctors for post-surgical care.
• 20-30mmHG or 30-40mmHG is called "surgical weight compression" and is the level of compression a physician would recommend to deal with a more serious health problem, such as severe varicose veins or severe edema.
How Compression Hosiery Can Prevent Foot And Leg Problems
While much compression hosiery is worn on a doctor's recommendation or prescription to deal with serious leg health issues, growing numbers of people are finding that quality, graduated compression can make a real difference in everyday life, even though they aren't suffering from a real health issue.
Sitting at a desk or in an airplane seat for a long period of time can cause compression of the blood vessels in the leg, making circulation more difficult. The result can be not only leg pain and perhaps mild swelling the legs or ankles, but it can also increase your risk for future leg health problems, such as blood clots or varicose veins. Compression hosiery at the firm compression level, in effect is massaging your legs all day, resulting in improved circulation, better feeling legs and feet at the end of the day, and a decreased risk for future health problems.
Quality compression hosiery now also comes in a such a wide variety of colors and styles that it's easy to find choices that are fashionable and impossible for others to recognize as compression hosiery.
Of course, if you have a medical condition for which you feel compression hosiery might be helpful, your first step should be in talking to your physician. While compression hosiery may be the right choice for a variety of health problems, your physician should be the one to advise you on the best choices to make.
But the bottom line is that compression hosiery is not a mystery. It's a product that is carefully made to provide real and significant health benefits, and that's something we all can understand.
Using Exercise To Improve Circulation
While there are a variety of ailments that can lead to problems with your legs and feet, some of the most common are directly related to your circulatory system. The circulation of your blood is key to the health of your legs and feet – actually, to the health of every cell in your body.
Your circulatory system is responsible for feeding your bones and tissues, delivering the nutrients and oxygen that let your cells function properly and stay healthy. But due to the distance from your heart to your feet, and the pull of gravity that makes the return circulation from your feet back to your lungs and heart even more difficult, circulation problems often show up first in your legs and feet.
The healthier you can keep your circulatory system, the better your chances of avoiding or minimizing the illnesses and problems that come with poor circulation. Or, if you are already facing circulatory problems, taking action to improve your circulation may help avoid a worsening of existing problems, and can sometimes even lead to improved health.
Strengthening Your Heart and Lungs
One of the best defenses against both arterial and venous disease is regular aerobic exercise. This simply means virtually any exercise that elevates your heart rate and gets your blood pumping faster for a period of time. Aerobic exercise is key to improved circulation.
There are two principal ways in which aerobic exercise benefits your circulatory system. The first is simply that it helps to strengthen your lungs and heart. Whether it's walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, stair climbing or any other type of physical activity that raises your heart rate and gets you breathing a little heavier over a period of time, it's a form of aerobic exercise and is helping your heart and lungs to be stronger and to function more efficiently.
Your Muscles and Circulation
The second benefit of aerobic exercise is that it strengthens your muscles, and muscles play an important role in our circulatory system. The contractions of our muscles, especially in the far reaches of our circulatory system – like the legs and feet – assist both arteries and veins in helping our blood movement. As your muscles contract and relax as you move, they are also squeezing the nearby blood vessels, helping to move the blood more quickly and efficiently back to the heart and lungs.
Regular exercise conditions your muscles, making them more efficient and stronger. That not only means that they help move your blood faster, but the stronger, denser muscles also keep your veins under more pressure, helping them to avoid the sagging and widening that often comes with aging and that marks the beginning of circulatory problems.
Do You Need More Exercise?
The answer for most of us is usually "yes." Numerous studies show that the average American gets far too little physical activity. As a society, we have come to rely on cars and a variety of labor saving devices. Compared to only a generation or two ago, our daily lives, both at home and at our jobs, require significantly less physical activity.
That may make life easier, but the fact is that our bodies require a fair amount of daily physical activity for good health. For countless generations, our ancestors had to expend large amounts of physical energy every day to have food and shelter, or even to travel from one place to another. The bodies we have inherited, in other words, were used to working hard every day.
Yet today, our daily lives make few physical demands upon our bodies. That's why even low or moderate levels of daily exercise -- exercise that need not take a great deal of time or effort -- can bring significant health benefits for most people.
Start by considering how active you are right now. Do you get at least thirty minutes of moderate activity most days of the week? Most people don't, yet the U.S. Surgeon General recommends at least that much exercise as a means of maintaining good health.
Even if you are fairly active, there may be other factors that should influence when and how much you exercise. If, for example, you spend long periods of time sitting down, you can cause what is called a "vasospasm," a closing off of the blood vessels and a diminishing of the circulation to the legs and feet. Getting up and walking around the room, even for just 30 seconds every fifteen or twenty minutes, is one way to avoid this problem and improve circulation to your legs and feet.n.
Never Too Old To Exercise
While age or less-than-optimal health are excuses often used to avoid exercise, the truth is that regular exercise is vital as we grow older, and it's usually easy to do in some form, regardless of our age or physical condition.
It's a natural part of the aging process, for example, that reduces the efficiency of the circulation in our legs and feet. But that doesn't mean it's an inevitable process. By maintaining a program of regular exercise that emphasizes the use of your legs and feet, you can help slow down that process and ensure that your circulatory system remains as efficient and healthy as possible.
Researchers say regular exercise actually can have more benefits for seniors than for younger people. One study focused on a group whose average age was 85. It found that regular exercise, including appropriate strength training, not only had them feeling healthier and happier, but that it actually reversed some health conditions. One woman, who had been wheelchair-bound for a year after hip surgery, ended up walking to her exercise class each day.
An important first step before increasing your level of exercise, if you have been sedentary for some time or have an existing health problem, is to talk to your physician.
It's essential to start on an exercise program that is appropriate for you and that will help you achieve an improved level of conditioning and health, not leave you feeling worse than when you started or that will put your health at risk. Your doctor should be able to offer advice or point you in the right direction for outside help.
You may find that getting involved with a personal trainer or an appropriate program at a local gym, YMCA or YWCA, is an easy and safe way to increase your level of exercise. Or, you might want to consult some Internet sources, or books from your local library or bookstore, for advice on how to get started on increasing your level of exercise safely.
However you begin, make sure to avoid the biggest mistake made by most people – trying to do too much too fast. If you are out of shape, it most likely took you quite a bit of time to get to this point. Don't expect to totally change things overnight.
The end result, regardless of the approach you use, is to get more active. Even a slight increase in your daily exercise can bring health benefits and help fight the leg and foot problems that come from poor circulation.
Taking a daily 5 minute walk may not seem like much of an exercise program, but if you currently get almost no exercise, it's an important step in the right direction. While even that short walk may seem difficult at first, by next week you'll find it getting easier and easier. And by next month, you may find you're walking 15 minutes, a half hour or even more each day, enjoying it, and feeling healthier and livelier than ever.
The bottom line? Get started on getting more exercise. Whatever the amount, you'll feel the better for it, and your circulatory system will most definitely thank you.
Varicose Veins And Pregnancy
The burdens of pregnancy are many for the mom-to-be. In addition to all the normal demands of daily living, which often include a full-time job on top of the chores of home and family, there is a special need to eat a healthy, balanced diet, to get proper exercise and for plenty of rest.
But even for the expecting mom who is doing an excellent job of keeping all the balls of daily life in the air while also giving herself the tender loving care she deserves, there are still times when her legs are going to feeling tired and achy.
Blood Flow and Tired, Aching Legs
The circulatory system in our bodies has two kinds of blood vessels: arteries and veins. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Arteries have thick walls which actually help the heart to pump the blood by gently contracting with each heartbeat.
Veins are the thin-walled blood vessels which return blood back to the heart. The veins have valves that open when the blood flows past them, then close after each heartbeat to stop the blood from flowing backwards in the vein. These valves are especially important in the legs. When weak or damaged valves allow blood to flow backward, it collects at the bottom of the leg. This excess blood increases pressure in the vein and causes that tired aching feeling in your legs.
That increased pressure, over time, can eventually stretch and enlarge your veins. These stretched and twisted veins are what we call varicose veins. The smaller veins close to the skin's surface may be bluish, appearing knotted or like a spider-web.
The Increased Chance of Developing Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
While anyone at any age can develop varicose veins, the changes that a woman's body undergoes during pregnancy increase the chances that varicose veins may occur. Some health experts have estimated that about 40% of women will be affected by varicose veins during pregnancy.
One reason is that pregnancy causes hormonal changes in a woman's body, one of which results in the vein walls relaxing slightly and stretching out. While this can help in increasing blood flow, important for the developing baby, it can also increase the likelihood that varicose veins may form. That likelihood is also increased by the additional weight a woman adds during pregnancy, weight that puts greater pressure on the veins of the expecting mom's legs.
Other factors that can increase the risk of developing varicose veins include activities that require you to spend long periods of time standing or sitting. Such inactivity makes it easier for blood and other fluids to pool in your legs, again increasing the pressure on the veins and causing additional stretching of veins and possible damage to the valves within the veins.
Some women, of course, may already have varicose veins prior to pregnancy. There are numerous things that can lead to the development of varicose veins unrelated to pregnancy. Excessive weight, heavy use of alcohol and lack of exercise can all help contribute to the problem, as can smoking. Becoming pregnant will usually aggravate and worsen the condition when varicose veins already exist.
In some cases, however, there is simply an inherited tendency to have weaker vein walls and valve problems. Often, if a woman's mother developed varicose veins during pregnancy, there is a good chance that her daughter will as well.
Varicose Veins Developed During Pregnancy Are Often Temporary
The good news for many women is that the varicose veins that develop during pregnancy return to normal after the baby is born. As the conditions that led to the varicose veins disappear after giving birth, so too, in most cases, will the varicose veins themselves. There is a greater chance, however, of the problem disappearing if there are steps taken during pregnancy, as outlined below, to minimize both the occurrence and severity of varicose veins.
For a woman who has an inherited tendency for thin-walled veins or weak valves within the veins of the legs, there is, of course, a much higher chance that the varicose veins that have developed will not go away once the pregnancy is over. In any case, it is always worth the effort of taking steps to try and minimize the seriousness and permanence of varicose veins that occur during pregnancy.
Taking Steps to Minimize The Development of Varicose Veins
One of the easiest actions to take to help reduce the risk of developing varicose veins during pregnancy is to wear high-quality compression hosiery. Maternity pantyhose provides gradient compression, providing the highest level of pressure at the ankle and gradually decreasing the pressure up the leg. This design gently compresses the leg muscles, squeezing the veins, and helping to push the blood back toward the heart.
Regular, sensible exercise is another means of minimizing varicose vein risk. Simply walking regularly helps to strengthen the leg muscles, providing more support for the veins in the legs and helping, through the compression of the muscles as your walk, to move the blood out of the leg and back toward the lungs and heart. Your doctor can offer advice on exercise that is appropriate and healthful during pregnancy.
It is also good advice to avoid long periods of standing or sitting. The lack of activity allows blood to pool in the veins of the leg, increasing the pressure on both the veins and the valves within the veins and thus increasing the risk of varicose veins forming. If you will be facing a prolonged period of standing or sitting, break it up with regular periods of exercise, either taking a short walk or, at the very minimum, doing some foot exercises, such as flexing your toes, rotating your feet at the ankles and doing toe lifts with your heels on the floor. All of these will help keep the blood circulating better in your feet and legs.
While varicose veins generally have few if any immediate health implications, they are something most women wish to avoid during pregnancy. Compression hosiery, regular exercise and keeping active can help minimize the risk. Talk to your physician about the problem and see what he or she has to recommend.
Venous Thromboembolic Disease -- It Can Be Prevented
It sounds scary, and it should. "Venous thromboembolic disease." Sometimes it's referred to as "deep vein thrombosis," which doesn't sound any less frightening. But you're probably most familiar with it by the name the press has coined to talk about this potentially dangerous medical condition -- "economy class syndrome." It's a potentially dangerous condition that is finally getting more attention.
A Circulation Problem With Serious Consequences
Whatever the name used, what it describes is a health problem that occurs when a pooling of blood takes place in the lower limbs, allowing a blood clot to form. Although small clots are fairly common in our bodies, they usually are dissolved quickly by the body and have no health implications. But when a clot develops that does not dissolve but instead breaks loose and travels to the lung, it can results in a potentially dangerous disorder known as a "pulmonary embolism," a blood clot in the lungs that has the potential to be fatal.
The name "economy class syndrome" came about because of the association of this health problem with the long hours of cramped inactivity that people face on long airline flights. It is important to note, however, that this condition is not caused by being on an airplane, but rather by the problem of sitting with little or no movement for a long amount of time.
That's an important fact to keep in mind as vacation season approaches and many of us will be traveling not only on airplanes, but also on buses, trains and cars. All of these modes of transportation usually mean we are seated and immobile for extended periods of time, conditions that can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT). And while DVT is not overly common (health experts estimate it strikes about 1 in 1000 people, although in those over 65 the data indicates that the rate is closer to 3 to 5 occurrences per 1000 people), its effects can be dangerous enough to make any traveler follow some simple precautions to minimize the likelihood of its occurring.
How To Reduce The Risk Of DVT
One effective means of reducing risk is to wear compression hosiery when a long trip is planned. This can be especially effective for long plane trips where the seating is often more cramped and the ability to get up and move around is often limited. However, good compression hose also is just as effective for long trips by car or any other means of transportation. High quality compression hosiery helps to minimize the problem of excessive blood pooling in the legs, and thus reduces the chances of a blood clot forming.
You can also help reduce the risk of this condition by making sure you aren't simply sitting still for the entire trip. On a plane trip, getting up to take a walk up and down the aisle at regular intervals will do a great deal to keep your blood circulating properly. On car trips, plan regular stops for a short walk. It not only minimizes the health risks associated with long periods of sitting inactive, but will help you arrive at your destination feeling more relaxed and comfortable.
There may be times that you find you are stuck sitting for a long period of time with little or no opportunity to get up and actually walk around. That doesn't mean, however, that you need be inactive. There are simple things you can do, even while sitting, that will help contract your leg muscles and improve the circulation in your legs. Simple foot movements, such as lifting the toes of your foot while keeping your heel on the ground, can be done. It also helps to lift your feet, one at a time, slightly off the ground and then rotate the foot at the angle, first in one direction and then the other. Such exercise should be performed for a few minutes every half hour to help stimulate blood flow.
Some common sense approaches can also help minimize risk. One simple one is to wear loose, comfortable clothing for long periods of travel so that your clothes aren't helping restrict blood flow. You also want to be well hydrated, drinking plenty of water both before and during the travel period. It's also good advice to avoid alcohol and to limit drinks high in caffeine, such as tea and coffee, all of which can help decrease blood flow.
Be Aware Of Factors That Can Increase Your Risk
While these simple steps can help reduce the risk for this potentially dangerous condition for nearly everyone, there are also some people who are more likely to be affected by it due to existing conditions. Risk factors include either a prior personal or family history of venous thromboembolic disease, obesity, pregnancy, a blood clotting disorder or various chronic disease. Anyone with such risk factors, should both take steps to minimize their risk when taking long trips, as well as consult with their physician prior to undertaking such travel.
Weight Loss for Healthier Legs and Feet
A variety of health issues can lead to leg and foot problems, but one of the most common contributing factors, and one often overlooked by those suffering from such problems, is the effect of excess weight on leg and foot health.
Being overweight is, unfortunately, a much too common problem in this nation. Recent statistics indicate that as many as two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and about half of those, or one-third of all Americans, are medically obese (having a Body Mass Index - BMI - of 30 or higher).
The list of increased health risks associated with excessive weight is long — from higher risk for heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer, to an increased likelihood of developing osteoarthritis, gall bladder disease and even depression. Being overweight also greatly increases one's risk for diabetes, a disease which often causes circulatory problems in the legs and feet.
In addition, simply being overweight can be a cause of leg and foot problems and pain, even when it doesn't lead to more serious illnesses. Carrying extra weight places more strain upon the joints and can lead to degeneration of the cartilage and bone that makes up those joints. Being overweight also can have a negative effect on the circulatory system of the legs, placing an extra strain on veins and valves, and leading to swelling in the feet and ankles as our tissues retain excess fluids.
Blame Your Ancestors
While the increased health risks of being overweight may be well documented, and while most of us who are overweight would prefer to shed those excess pounds, it still is a very difficult goal to achieve.
Part of the reason for the difficulty of losing weight is simply that most of us have bodies that are programmed to try and prevent us from losing weight. This body programming is the result of our being descended from ancestors who usually never had to worry about having too much food to eat.
It isn't hard to imagine our cavemen ancestors, the "hunter-gatherers," struggling to find enough to eat. When warm weather brought fruits and nuts on local plants, food was usually not a problem. But for long periods of the year, finding sufficient food was always a struggle. While a successful hunt might mean a short period of feasting, there might be several lean weeks before there was once again ample food available.
As a result, early man evolved to take the best advantage of such limited food circumstances. The fact that most of us enjoy foods that are sweet or high in fat and calories is the product of just such evolution. Sweet tastes indicated to early man that a food was ripe and ready to eat. Fatty foods became a preference because they provided the most nutrition in the least amount of food (fat provides almost twice the calories per serving as carbohydrates and protein, the other two components of the foods we eat). As importantly, the human body became very efficient at storing excess calories as body fat, ready to sustain the person during lean times.
Developing such tastes, food preferences and fat storing abilities meant survival for early man. And all of that has been passed on down to us. Changes in the food supply have meant that most of us have more than enough to eat all year long, yet our ancestor's genetic programming is still with us today and affecting both the foods we choose and how our bodies react to those foods.
Modern farming, food preservation and storage techniques, and the transportation of food from distant sources to hungry populations, are all developments that occurred mostly in the last century. Our very recent ancestors often had to face lean times when few desirable foods were available, or times when little or no food was available. In other words, the taste of high calorie foods and the body's ability to quickly and easily convert calories into stored body fat have been important to human survival, even in this nation of abundance, until quite recently.
The problem for most of us, therefore, is that we are now living in a time of almost unlimited choices food, and with a ready supply of an abundance of affordable food for all of us year-round. Add to that the pressure of modern advertising, working each day to sell us all these wonderful, but often high fat and high calorie foods to eat.
However, our bodies still believe that there is liable to be a famine coming any minute. We still have our ancestors' preferences and tastes for sugary and high-fat foods. We still convert calories into stored body fat as if it might be weeks before our next successful hunt or harvest, rather than merely hours before our next trip to a restaurant, the supermarket or our kitchen fridge.
Combine those genetic tendencies to overeat the highest calories foods with our current abundant supply of food, then toss in all our modern labor saving technology that has us being less physically active than at any time in human history, and you have a formula that very easily explains why so many of us weigh more than is really healthy for us.
Finding A Sensible Approach To Weight Loss
Of course, while it's important to know that being overweight is a real health issue, and it's informative to know why our bodies seem so intent on making us weigh more, none of that solves the problem of how to lose weight.
Losing weight is currently America's favorite activity. Each year, the number one New Year's resolution is to lose weight, and it's estimated that at any point in time about one out of every three Americans is on a weight loss diet. Indeed, Americans currently spend about $30 billion each year in support of the weight loss industry. And, unfortunately, the vast majority of that money is spent on pills, magic potions and gimmicky diets that simply don't work.
Today this nation is in the midst of a "low-carb" diet frenzy that does seem to have some people losing weight. The problem, according to most health experts, is that while weight loss usually happens with any approach to dieting (even the craziest grapefruit or seaweed diet), most people find it impossible to continue such dieting for a lifetime and thus rarely keep the weight off.
The sensible approach to weight loss? It's actually a relatively simple method that recognizes the cravings that our often-starving ancestors passed on to us, and that uses a common sense approach to eating and staying active:
- Eat a variety of foods — there are no "bad" foods. When you choose a variety of foods you are eating a balanced diet that provides maximum health benefits. You are also avoiding the "pigging out" that often comes when you diet and deprive yourself of favorite foods. In such cases, most people break down one day and overeat that particular food just because it's driving them crazy, wiping out most of their dieting success. Instead, don't deprive yourself, but do limit portion sizes.
- Avoid skipping meals — while skipping meals may seem a good way to cut calories, the truth is that it can leave you hungrier and more likely to overeat at your next meal. It's those old "caveman genes" kicking in, making you feel hungrier because you just faced a small "famine" through that missed meal.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables — these foods provide essential vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. They also seem to cut our risk for heart disease, some forms of cancer and other health problems. Most importantly, for someone looking to lose weight, they provide a lot of bulk, to make you feel full, without providing a lot of calories.
- Increase your level of physical activity — when you are eating less your "caveman genes" once again kick in. Basically, your body tries to protect itself when your calorie intake is down by slowing down your metabolism so that you are also expending fewer calories. Unfortunately, that won't help you lose weight. Instead, simply being even a little more active will once again raise that metabolism, burn calories and help you shed those extra pounds. Even just adding a brisk 30-minute walk (or three 10-minute walks) to your daily routine can play a big role in helping lose weight.
- Monitor and keep a record of what you're eating and portion sizes. It may seem like a lot of extra work at first, but just writing down when, what and how much you're eating can be one of the most effective ways to lose weight. We often, unconsciously, grab a little snack or have a second serving, not even noticing the extra calories. Keeping a log of your eating, even if only for the first week or so, can make you much more conscious of how much food you really are consuming each day, and will help you think twice before reaching for something else to eat.
Unfortunately, there is no magic means for losing weight. It all comes down to a very simple formula. Burn more calories than you take in and your weight will go down. But, as noted above, that doesn't and shouldn't mean starving yourself. Any diet that leaves you feeling hungry irritated, deprived or weak is one that is doomed to fail.
Aim for sensible patterns of eating and physical activity that you can maintain for a lifetime. That's the only real way to lose weight, avoid health problems and feel really good about yourself.
What Can You Do About Leg Cramps?
Most of us don't think much about our blood vessels, the vast circulatory system that carries oxygen and nutrients via our blood throughout our bodies. But when we haven't been taking the proper care of ourselves, our bodies have a way of letting us know that things are not right, and that includes some very clear messages related to those blood vessels.
Circulating blood through our legs and feet is one of the most difficult tasks of our circulatory system. It's not only a long way from the heart to our toes, but it's an even more difficult journey back as our blood has to overcome both distance and gravity to return to the lungs and heart and begin its work all over again.
The arteries in our legs carry the fresh, oxygenated blood down to the capillaries, the tiny blood vessels where the nutrients and oxygen our blood is transporting are able to move into the muscle tissue and provide them with the tools needed to do their work. At the same time, that blood flow is picking up the waste products that our working muscles have produced and moving up to the organs, such as the liver and kidneys, where the blood can be cleaned and those waste products removed.
Hardening Of The Arteries
Our circulatory system is wonderful when all is working well, but as we age, and especially when our lifestyles negatively affect our health, problems can occur. One of the most common is when our arteries, which normally have an elastic quality, begin to deteriorate and lose that elasticity. Such deterioration can allow calcium deposits to build up, resulting in arteriosclerosis obliterans, or what most of us know as hardening of the arteries.
When hardening of the arteries occurs it means the artery is no longer able to expand as it once could, and that the flow of blood through the artery is thus restricted. This problem is most noticeable during physical activity when the muscles of your legs and feet need more blood in order to receive additional oxygen and to send away waste products resulting from the work they are doing.
A common effect of reduced blood flow in our leg arteries is the occurrence of pain, spasms and cramps in the muscles of your legs and feet. These cramps can be an indication of advancing arteriosclerosis when they limit even simple activities, such as taking a walk. As you walk you may experience cramps, commonly called "charley horses," that can become quite painful and force you to stop walking.
These cramps are the result of that limited blood flow. In effect, it is your leg muscles' way of complaining that they are receiving too little fresh oxygen and new nutrients, and that they are unable to keep on working because they are filled with waste products from the work they've done already. When the pain causes you to stop walking and rest, however, the limited blood flow is then able to catch up, take away the excess waste products, and thus allow the pain to go away and your exercise to continue.
Eating Right To Fight Arteriosclerosis
While overcoming a problem such as hardening of the arteries can take time and be difficult to achieve, it can be done. An important first step is making sure your diet is a healthy one. Fatty deposits in your arteries may be one cause of arteriosclerosis. Changing your diet to one that is low in fat and cholesterol can help to keep this condition from worsening and may, according to some research, even help reverse the condition.
There are numerous books and articles that have been published with advice on making effective changes for a lower fat diet to help fight arteriosclerosis. Probably the best known and one of the most reliable names in the field is cardiac researcher Dr. Dean Ornish. While, the emphasis for most health experts in this area is of course, heart disease, rather than leg cramps, the basic problem of hardening of the arteries is the same in both conditions, and the dietary changes that can mean better heart and overall health are the same ones that help reduce or eliminate the conditions leading to leg cramps.
Exercise And Improved Blood Flow
Another important change to make is to increase your level of physical activity. In many cases, not exercising has often played a big role in the development of circulatory problems. When you exercise, you cause more blood to flow into the legs and feet, forcing the arteries to open and close and thus regain some of their former elasticity.
The difficult part, of course, is that even moderate amounts of exercise may be painful and can cause cramps. When that happens, rest as necessary to let the pain subside, but don't give up on exercising. Over time, if you stick with a program of sensible, appropriate exercise, you will find that the cramps and pain that occur tend to be less severe, or may eventually disappear.
If hardening of the arteries is a cause of the leg cramps that you are experiencing, developing a sensible, safe exercise program is often the most effect change that can be made to treat the condition.
Talk To Your Physician
While good nutrition and appropriate exercise can be extremely helpful in overcoming leg cramps and spasms, it is important to remember that such conditions can be indications of a variety of serious health problems. If leg cramps are occurring both when you are sleeping and awake, and are serious and painful enough to limit your activities, be sure to discuss the problem with your physician. He or she can provide a clear diagnosis of what is causing the problem, and should be able to offer advice on what you can do to overcome the condition.
What Can You Do For Swollen Legs?
Swelling of the legs, ankles or feet is a fairly common problem. It can have a number of possible causes and often afflicts people who are on their feet many hours a day, especially if that time is spent being relatively immobile. Sales clerks, teachers, and others in similar positions often suffer from swelling in their legs. The good news, however, is that in many cases the condition is quite correctable.
Understanding Why Our Legs Can Become Swollen
One reason for such swelling is simply due to the basic fact that our bodies contain a great deal of liquid. Every cell of our bodies is bathed in watery liquid -- fluids that cycle constantly back and forth between our bloodstreams and the gaps between our tissue cells, gaps that are called the interstitial space.
When there is a disruption of any sort in the flow of fluid between this space and our bloodstream, the result can be some swelling in our legs, ankles and feet. And there are, of course, a number of things which can lead to such a disruption.
Some such causes are well known. Varicose veins, for example, are veins that have been stretched out and that are no longer functioning efficiently. They do a poor job of helping move the blood back to your heart, resulting in a backup or pooling of blood in your legs, leading to excess interstitial fluid that may result in swelling.
Most women know that leg swelling is common during pregnancy, but a number of other conditions can also contribute to leg swelling, which is also called edema. In idiopathic edema, leg swelling can occur after standing for several hours, especially in hot weather, although the exact reason why such swelling takes place is not certain.
It is known, however, that people with congestive heart failure often have trouble with swollen legs. This is because the weakened heart muscle is unable to operate efficiently as a pump, which leads to blood stagnating in the veins, especially in the extremities, such as the legs and feet.
Other conditions that can lead to leg, ankle and foot swelling include malnutrition, disorders of the liver, kidney, or intestines, and even very common health problems such as allergies, insect bites or bacterial infections. A more serious health condition which can lead to leg swelling can be a blockage of the lymphatic system resulting from cancer or lymph gland inflammation.
Obviously, if leg, ankle and foot swelling is a common problem for you, and especially if it is one that is accompanied by pain or severe discomfort, an immediate cause of action should be to consult with your physician. There may be serious health issues that are underlying the problem.
Taking Action To Alleviate Swollen Legs
In most cases, however, there are simple and effective actions you can take to help swollen legs. The easiest one is simply to elevate your legs. Raising your feet six to twelve inches higher than your heart can usually lead to a quick reduction of swelling of the legs, ankles or feet. It's a remedy you should try several times a day, if possible. If you are not able to lie down and elevate your feet, you should at least sit down and prop your feet up on a footstool, sofa or another chair for a short period of time. You can also get relief at night by putting a couple of pillows under the foot of your bed in order to elevate it slightly.
One of the most effective means of treating the problem is to wear high-quality compression hosiery. This type of support hose provides the highest degree of compression support at the ankles, with the compression gradually decreasing up the leg. This helps the blood to circulate more efficiently in your leg and helps lessen the pooling of fluid in your lower extremities. The best approach, of course, is to put on the compression hosiery as soon as you rise in the morning, before your legs, ankles and feet have had a chance to swell.
Another way to prevent or at least minimize edema is to increase the amount of exercise you are getting. Strengthening the muscles in your legs and feet will allow them to do a better job of helping push blood and other fluids out of your legs and back into the body. The simple act of walking produces muscle contractions that helps push your blood back through your veins to your heart.
Watching the amount of salt in your diet can also help reduce swelling. Staying away from salt-cured foods and prepared foods that are high in sodium, as well as not adding extra salt at the dinner table, can help avoid the increase in swelling that often results from excessive dietary sodium.
If you are overweight, losing that extra weight can also help reduce the problem of leg, ankle and foot swelling. Weight loss will reduce the strain and pressure on the veins in your legs and abdomen, helping to improve circulation. And improved circulation is a key to avoiding leg swelling.
Swollen Legs Are Not A Problem To Ignore
While swelling of the legs, ankles and feet may be a fairly common problem, it is one that we all would like to avoid. Most importantly, when it is accompanied by pain, redness, heat in your legs, an open sore, the swelling of only one limb, or shortness of breath, it is often an indication of a more serious health problem. In any of these situations, consult with your physician as soon as possible.