Tag: compression therapy

What is lymphedema and who’s at risk for this condition?

What is lymphedema? It’s a form of chronic swelling. But, unlike other forms of swelling (or edema) lymphedema doesn’t develop when a fluid such as blood or water gets trapped in your soft tissue. Instead, this type of swelling sets in when your body’s lymph fluid gets trapped in the sift tissue of your skin.

Once that occurs, you’ll notice swelling that won’t go away. When you press down on the swollen areas of skin, the imprint of your finger will stick around. And, eventually, the problem can be painful.

But what is lymph fluid? Why would it get trapped in your skin? And who’s at risk for lymphedema? Keep reading for the answer to these and other important questions!

What is Lymph fluid? What is lymphedema?

Lymph fluid circulates within your body as part of the lymphatic system that travels alongside your veins and arteries. Filled with proteins and fats, this fluid helps get white blood cells to spots in your body where infection-fighting is necessary.

Since lymph fluid is key to helping immunity, anything that blocks it’s movement could leave you vulnerable to infection. Plus, once trapped in your soft tissue, built up lymph can also cause your body to form scar tissue or new fat deposits in the affected areas. Together, this combination can impact your mobility, making it difficult for you to get through your day.

Now you have a better understanding of lymph fluid. But why would it stop circulating? And what causes lymphedema? Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this question. Because several different triggers or conditions could lead to the buildup of lymphatic fluid in your body.

 

What is Lymphedema? Underlying Causes of Chronic Swelling

Common causes of lymphedema include:

1.       Your genetics or family history

2.       Advanced vein disease

3.       Illness, including heart disease, heart failure, obesity, high blood pressure, liver disease, or kidney disease

4.       Physical trauma

5.       Cancer treatment, particularly for breast cancer survivors whose lymph nodes were removed. (Sadly, black women have a higher risk of lymphedema following breast cancer surgery when compared to women of other races.)

Symptoms include swelling in your arm, leg, fingers or toes. (It could affect the entire limb, or only smaller parts.) Your limb may feel tight or heavy, and it could display limits on range of motion. Your affected arm or leg could ache or feeling uncomfortable. You may develop recurring infections, thick or hardened skin and, when lymphedema hits your lower body, leg cramps could also develop.

Regardless of the cause of lymphedema, it’s important to seek medical attention at the first sign of swelling. After all, the condition is progressive. And, if left untreated, your swelling could become both very painful and debilitating.

What is Lymphedema? Swelling that Usually Gets Worse Over Time

This condition develops in four stages. In its earliest stages, your symptoms may be very mild. Your arms or legs could feel heavy or experience a mild tingling sensation. But, as more fluid builds up, swelling will set in.

Once that occurs, things could get serious. In fact, for some people, the swelling of lymphedema makes it difficult to wear regular clothing. And, for others, the swelling is so severe that movement is challenging. Luckily, with early intervention, it’s usually possible to prevent this degree of progression.

Treatment Options

When caught early, we’ve seen great results using compression therapy for lymphedema. In many cases, you’ll combine compression socks or sleeves with a special form of massage to help get lymph fluid moving. (It’s called manual lymphatic drainage.)

Newer treatment options involve light therapy and surgery. But since there’s no way to predict if surgery will relieve swelling, it’s best to choose an earlier, less invasive intervention. In fact, because lymphatic surgeries offer mixed results, many surgeons instead opt to remove built up fat deposits using liposuction. Because, in this way, you can reduce lymphedema’s physical symptoms and limitations. But you won’t have to worry about patients not responding to treatment.

Supportive Products

Like we said, compression socks can really help with the fluid build-up. But did you know there are also special compression pumps you can use to get built-up fluid circulating? If you need a more dramatic intervention, this in-home medical device could help you manage your condition.

In less severe cases, grabbing a new bike can help you improve lymphedema through gentle exercise. Additionally, certain dietary changes can help improve circulation and reduce swelling. So stocking up on circulation boosting grocery items such as green tea could also help manage lymphedema at home.

Houston Lymphedema Help

Treating vein disease may help prevent lymphedema from developing or progressing. Plus, when you see your Houston area vein specialists, we can also prescribe compression therapy to help manage your chronic swelling.

Ready to manage swelling and regain mobility? We’re here to help. So reach out today and schedule your consultation at one of our five Houston-area locations!

Sources: Michigan Health

 

Here’s What you Need to Know about Bloodclots

In our Houston vein practice, we know how serious a threat bloodclots pose to your health. When we treat patients with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of your legs, we face a medical emergency. That’s because, if a blood clot breaks free and travels to other parts of your body—especially to your lungs—it can threaten your life.

But, many people want to know: why do I get blood clots? And, what are they exactly? Is there anything I can do to prevent them? So, in this post, we will try to answer all of those questions. Just keep reading to learn more.

Why do bloodclots form? stages of PAD

When things are working properly, your blood flows freely through your body, delivering oxygen to your organs and flushing out the waste products created by your body’s metabolic processes. But, if you get a cut, scrape or injury, blood in your arteries and veins (veins return blood from the body to the heart; arteries transport blood away from your heart) will clot to block your blood vessels and stop you from bleeding out.

But, when your arteries or veins get blocked when you aren’t injured, you need medical intervention. Otherwise, you can face complications such as strokes, heart attacks, organ damage and even limb loss. On certain occasions, as we mentioned earlier, blood clots can kill you by traveling to your lungs (pulmonary embolism), interfering with your ability to breathe.

Blood clots form in blood vessels—either your deep veins or your arteries. Typically, they form after your blood vessels get damaged, triggering a reaction in your body. This reaction involves a mix of platelets and clotting factor proteins.

Bloodclots Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a clot. But certain issues raise your risk. About 8% of the population experiences hypercoagulation, a condition that makes your blood clot more often. But for those of us who don’t face this concern, pregnancy, heart disease and cancer could all increase your risk.

Still, even your lifestyle could be an issue. Being stuck in bed for extended periods makes bloodclots more likely to form. Any damage to your blood vessel walls, either due to injury or surgery, could also spell trouble. Finally, while research is ongoing, prior COVID infection seems to trigger an inflammatory response that could make your blood more likely to clot.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Since a blood clot in your legs can break free and travel to your lungs, it’s very important to recognize the early warning signs. With a clot, you may notice a hard lump in your leg, which could also display inflammation. When the affected vein is near your surface.

When your surface veins are impacted, some people describe clots as feeling like thin sausages. And, in many cases, the skin on top of that bulge appears red in color. If you notice any of these signs, seek immediate medical attention. Otherwise, you’re at risk for serious medical complications and health concerns.

How Do Blood Clots Cause Health Problems?

As we mentioned, problematic blood clots form when the connection between platelets and clotting factor proteins goes awry. Platelets are objects in your blood that group together and stick to the walls of your blood vessels when needed.

Clotting factors are proteins in the blood that trigger a reaction to makes platelets and red blood cells stick together. Typically, other proteins in your body make that reaction stop, so your clot only reaches the size needed to prevent excess bleeding.  But when damage to your blood vessels impacts that reaction, clots may grow unchecked, leaving you at risk for clotting conditions like DVT.

Arterial clots and DVT

We can’t always predict who will be affected by blood clots, or when those clots will form. But we do know certain factors that can increase your risk for clots:

  • Prolonged immobility, as with long airplane flights
  • Having thick blood (hypercoagulability.) Often, you only discover your blood is thick after developing a clood clot. But in some cases, hypercoagulability causes chest pain, dizziness, slurred speech and shortness of breath. Usually, this condition is a symptom of other diseases, including vascular diseases suches as polycythemia.
  •  Arm or leg surgery
  • Casting a broken bone
  • Trauma
  • Smoking
  • Being pregnant
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Age
  • A family history of peripheral artery disease (PAD), stroke or heart disease.

Remember, PAD develops when you have atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, a type of arteriosclerosis, is a condition where plaque builds up in your arteries. It specifically means that plaque built up on the inner most wall of your artery. Once that happens, your arteries narrow and ‘harden.’ In turn, this reduces blood flow to certain parts of your body. And it also increases your risk of blood getting ‘stuck,’ and forming clots.

New research has revealed an additional risk factor for blood clots, and it’s one that you unfortunately can’t control. In fact, your blood type can contribute to that risk, according to a study published in the Journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 

The research, which began in 2017, found that people with types A or B blood had a combined 8% higher risk of heart attack, and a 10% increased risk of heart failure, as compared to people with type O blood. So, knowing your blood type could help you understand your risk for developing a blood clot.

 

Diagnosing and Treating Blood Clots

The best way to treat blood clots is to prevent their formation. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying mobile even on long trips, and using compression therapy can all help protect you from DVT. Even if you develop a DVT, compression therapy—especially within 24 hours of the clot’s formation—can help manage your risk of further complications.

So, as with many other vein and arterial conditions, timeliness is key when it comes to treating blood clots. The sooner you see a vein specialist, the better the outcome you will likely enjoy. So if you have any symptoms of or risks for blood clots, schedule an appointment with your Houston vein specialists today!

 

Sources: Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology JournalAmerican Heart Association

 

How to Get Better Circulation: 5 Easy Tips

Are you wondering how to get better circulation? So many conditions can affect your blood’s ability to circulate through your body. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), chronic venous disease (CVD) and even varicose veins can all make it harder for blood to flow into or out of certain areas of your body, especially your lower extremities. That’s the bad news, but here’s some good: there are things you can do to improve that circulation. And, in this post, we’ll share our three favorites. But first, let’s help you figure out if compromised circulation may be affecting your health.

Symptoms of Poor Circulation

No matter what condition impacts your circulation, you will likely experience: pain, tingling, numbness and muscle cramps. Any of these symptoms should send you to see your vein doctor, so you can be scanned for conditions that may be affecting your blood flow. Once the cause of your circulatory problems has been diagnosed, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following therapies to improve your blood flow.

How to Get Better Circulation After COVID

With new research, we’ve learned that COVID-19 attacks your blood vessels. That’s why so many COVID patients develop blood clots. And why so many people who recover from the disease still face circulatory challenges.

But how does this happen? The virus seems to attack your vein’s endothelium. (That’s your blood vessel’s interior lining. If it’s damaged, they can’t function optimally.) Today, researchers think that endothelial damage explains why so many COVID patients get deadly blood clots.

Additionally, vein specialists are seeing patients develop varicose veins after a COVID infection. For now, we can’t confidently say that viral damage causes these veins to appear. What we can say is that COVID damages your body’s circulatory system in a variety of ways. So knowing how to improve circulation after you recover could protect you from further complications.

Hot and Cold Therapy

Changes in temperature can improve blood circulation. When trying cold changes, we can apply ice packs, cold sprays or even an ice massage. Cooling the area with poor blood flow initially constricts blood vessels in the area; when they warm up and dilate gain, blood flow to the area improves. A direct application of hot packs or other warming devices dilates your blood vessels, improving blood flow in the same manner as the after-effects of cold therapy.

How to Get Better Circulation: Compression Therapy

Compression stockings improve circulation by putting pressure on your leg. That pressure helps push blood from the bottom of your legs into the deep venous system. And that helps blood return to your heart, helping mitigate symptoms of poor circulation. Even more importantly, compression therapy can reduce or eliminate edema (swelling that occurs in your legs, ankles or feet) and can help reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis, a potentially deadly condition that often develops without any warning signs.)

Improve Circulation as you Eat the Rainbow Improve circulation with flavanoid rich foods such as beets

Following a vein-health diet is a great, natural way to boost your blood flow. And a key part of that diet is colorful fruits and veggies. Why does color matter? The rainbow hues mean lots of flavonoids, which are a group of helpful nutrients that also give color to plants. When you eat a flavonoid such as anthocyanin, (found in deep red, blue and purple foods such as blueberries), the nutrients can help protect your blood vessel’s lining by strengthening their walls and fighting inflammation.

Now, as a group, flavonoids have another important job to do for your circulation. They can increase nitric oxide levels in your blood, which relaxes (dilates) your blood vessels. Once dilated, it’s easier for blood to circulate through your vessels. In addition to the berries, look for brightly colored choices such as purple cabbage, black plums and red beets to score the maximum benefits.

And that’s not all. New studies show that upping your daily flavanoid intake decreases your risk of PAD hospitalizations. But you don’t have to go crazy on your intake: the benefits max out at a certain level. Rather, to get the best PAD complication boost, aim for between 750mg and 1000mg per day. (Lots of foods contain flavanoids, but not all are created equal. Unsweetened baking cocoa has 206 mg for every 100 grams. One cup of blueberries, in contrast, has about 400mg of flavanoids. And for the real homerun, try a cup of green tea, which contains up to 1000 mg of flavanoids. In other words, your goal for the day!)

Spice Things Up

Certain supplements, such as ginkgo biloba and cayenne pepper, are known to stimulate circulation. How does this work? Both supplements relax (or dilate) your blood vessels. Which, as we’ve reviewed before, makes it easier for blood to flow freely through your body.

Exercise

When you exercise, your muscles become stronger. And when your muscles are stronger, they are better able to help pump blood back to your heart.  For this reason, any weight-bearing exercise that your doctor approves can help improve your circulation. Aerobic exercise also improves your circulation—walking is a great option because it is low impact. Exercising in the pool packs a double whammy, because your body is able to feel lighter and move longer when you are floating in the water.

How does exercise improve circulation at the level of your veins? It helps your valves pump blood up and out of your legs, moving back to your heart. Plus, exercise can help your body form new blood vessels. This is important if you already have varicose veins, since the new vessels can help take pressure off ones that aren’t working optimally.

And here’s a fun, pandemic friendly exercise tip for boosting circulation: try jumping on your trampoline! Yup, that’s right: bouncing isn’t just for kids. In fact, purchasing a mini-trampoline for indoor exercise is a very grown-up way to boost your vein health. That’s because, jumping (also called rebounding) on the trampoline can help reduce the pooling blood associated with varicose veins. It can also boost your circulation, and help you build stronger, healthier veins. Wondering how long you have to jump around? Here’s the good news : according to one rebounding study, you just need five minutes, three times a day, to boost your circulation.

Now, why is exercise so effective? As you move, you increase blood flow throughout your body. In other words, you force your blood to circulate!

Improving circulation will help manage the symptoms of decreased circulation, but if you want lasting relief, you will need to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms. So, if you have leg cramps, tingling or other symptoms of decreased blood flow, come see one of our Houston area vein specialists to discuss your treatment options.

 

Sources: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, BBC Good Foods, The Sports Daily, Bel Marra Health

New Tips for Treating Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers are open wounds that are hard to heal. That’s why treating leg ulcers is so tricky. And why new treatment studies and technology are so important. Today, we’ll explore two of those factors. The first is a new study related to the timing of treating leg ulcers. The second is a new technology for treating leg ulcers. Launched by FeelTect, an Irish startup, this ‘Tight Alright’ technology is intended for use in a new medical device. It will sense pressure to help with detecting and treating leg ulcers. And the third is a new smart bandage, that can wirelessly monitor wound healing, so you can keep an ulcer covered while making sure it’s progressing. But to understand why and how these treatments will work, we must first explore what causes venous leg ulcers.

What are Venous Leg Ulcers and Why Do They Form?

person wearing compression stockings
In conjunction with compression therapy, this new technology could help speed up the healing of ulcers

Venous leg ulcers are chronic wounds that develop because of venous insufficiency, a condition in which your body can’t circulate blood from your lower limbs. Venous insufficiency sets in when tiny valves in your veins stop working well. Instead of forcing blood back up towards the heart, it pools your legs. Then, your veins get stretched out and fluid builds up in your lower limbs.

You may be at risk for venous leg ulcers if you have a high Body Mass Index (BMI). Living a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk. As can high blood pressure. Finally, if your veins are insufficient, you have deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and/or a family history of these conditions, you’re more likely to develop an ulcer. 

Treating Venous Leg Ulcers

Compression therapy is a great first treatment for leg ulcers. The pressure placed on the veins in your lower legs can help get pooling blood out of the area, taking the pressure off your bulging veins and making the excess fluid less likely to contribute to existing ulcers, or to allow new ones to develop.

Now, compression therapy isn’t perfect. If doctors apply too much pressure, it can cut off all circulation to your limbs. Not enough pressure, and the treatment will be wholly ineffective. And, since compression devices cover the area being treated, it can be tough for doctors to determine just how much pressure is being delivered to your veins.

The Tight Alright device is intended to work in conjunction with compression therapy. Using wireless technology, the device measures and monitors the amount of pressure being delivered to your leg beneath the compression bandages.

Of course, bandages also cover wounds. But removing them to check on healing can irritate your ulcer. To help combat this problem, researchers from the National University of Singapore developed a wearable sensor that  detects wound temperature, pH, bacteria type and inflammatory factors. Best of all? It can do so in 15 minutes, wirelessly, so we can be sure your wound is healing well without disturbing the protective dressing.

Alternative Treatments for Leg Ulcers

Clearly, compression therapy isn’t perfect. And while new technology can help, changing treatment protocols may make a bigger difference. According to a new study in JAMA Surgery, compression therapy may not be the best first course of action.

In a clinical trial, 450 leg ulcer patients were instead treated with early interventions. And the results were astounding: patients healed faster. And had a lower risk of repeat problems with ulcers. Their outcomes were better than for those patients who first tried treating leg ulcers with compression therapy. And then turned to other interventions.

Of course, new treatment options keep popping up. In a recent study from the Journal of Experimental Dermatology researchers combined compression therapy with topical cannabinoids. (If you don’t know, cannabinoids are chemical compounds that naturally occur in cannabis plants. They range from non-psychoactive CBD to federally controlled-substances such as THC. And researchers believe they may offer medicinal properties.)

For this study, 14 elderly patients with non-healing leg ulcers received topical cannabis-based treatments, as well as compression bandages. At the end of the study period, 11 of those subjects reported full wound closure. Now, this is an exciting development. But more research, and larger studies, are needed before we can widely recommend this treatment option.

Treating Leg Ulcers in Houston

As vein specialists in the Houston area, we’re watching all the developments when it comes to treating leg ulcers. That way we can always deliver the most up-to-date care for our patients living with vein disease. Ready to explore your leg ulcer treatment options? Schedule an appointment with our specialists today!

Sources: Feeltect.com, JAMA Surgery

Staying Home Ups DVT Risk: Here’s What to Do

When do you have to worry about DVT risk? Well, you develop deep vein thrombosis (deep vein thrombosis ()DVT) when a blood clot forms in one of your deep veins. (This usually occurs in your legs). And DVT is a serious problem, more dangerous than other blood clots. Why? Because it comes with a high risk of recurrence, death, or chronic symptoms like pain and swelling.

But why do you develop DVT in the first place? Many factors contribute to this problem, but lack of movement is a big contributor (that’s why your DVT risk is high on long flights.) And, as we stayed home more, limiting our activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, that could be a problem. Even as COVID rates drop, the world has changed. Work from home will be much more common, and that’s concerning in some ways. Especially if you already have vein disease.

Thankfully, even taking a walk outside, and limiting your salty snacks, could help reduce your water retention and lower your DVT risk. Plus, we have several new and proven ways to treat your DVT. So just keep reading to learn more about what your life will look like, even if you develop a DVT.

New Microchip Predicts DVT Risk

Researchers at Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering have developed a miniaturized version a human vein called the Vein-Chip device. And they believe it will help doctors predict your DVT risk.

Basically, the Vein-Chip allows researchers to test various risk factors, including gender, race, ethnicity and more, to see how they impact DVT risk. The hope is that this technology will help our fellow vein specialists personalize your DVT treatment protocols.

Lead study author Abhishek Jain, Ph.D  and his team have already made an important discovery that may impact post DVT treatment. Basically, they found that when you’re healthy, and your blood flow slows down, your body may try to adapt by releasing anti-clotting factors. This adaptation only happens within your vein pocket, which suggests that we should deliver clot dissolving medications directly to your affected areas.

That’s one exciting development in DVT prevention and treatment protocols. Because, with targeted anti-clotting therapy, we could prevent dangerous bleeding episodes. So, now that we’ve discovered some new tech developments, let’s explore some other key findings.

What’s the Best Treatment Plan after a DVT?

According to a study published in the journal Blood, people with DVT can easily cut their risk of complications. How? It’s simple: just start compression therapy within 24 hours. compression socks

The study explored whether compression therapy could prevent residual vein occlusion and post thrombotic syndrome. What do those terms means? Residual vein occlusion is when clots stay in your veins, with or without symptoms. That’s a big deal, since it likely contributes to  post-thrombotic syndrome, which is just a collection of symptoms. These include pain, swelling, discoloration and leg scaling.

For this study, 600 DVT patients in the Netherlands received compression therapy within 24 hours of their diagnosis. Next, they were compared to patients that started that compression therapy later on. In addition to their compression therapy, all patients received anti-clotting medications.

What researchers found was promising: Patients who got immediate compression therapy were 20% less likely to develop residual vein occlusion and 8% less likely to suffer post-thrombotic syndrome compared with those who delayed compression.

Even better news? Compression therapy was not associated with any adverse side effects. And while all DVT patients appeared to benefit from compression, those with clots lower down in the leg enjoyed the greatest results.

Study author Dr. ten Cate-Hoek says, “Although the use of compression stockings after DVT is routine across much of Europe, it is less common in the United States, where guidelines emphasize compression primarily for patients who complain of ongoing symptoms…Given these outcomes, and that compression stockings are fairly easy to self-administer, relatively inexpensive, and minimally intrusive, compression therapy offers a clear benefit for all patients with DVT.”

Have you been diagnosed with DVT, and now you need to manage your care? Our Houston area vein specialists are here to help. Contact our office for an immediate appointment. We can help you protect your health with compression therapy, or any other treatments that may be necessary after we complete your evaluation.

Sources: Medical Dialogues, Blood Journal,

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