Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, February 2011.
This factsheet is for people who wear compression stockings, or who would like information about them.
Compression stockings help maintain circulation in the leg veins and reduce leg swelling. They are used to treat leg ulcers and varicose veins, and to help reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the veins of the legs (deep vein thrombosis, DVT).
Compression stockings (also called graduated compression stockings) can be used to prevent as well as treat a number of conditions that affect the circulation in your body.
Compression stockings work by putting pressure on the veins in your leg. They are called graduated compression stockings because the pressure is greatest at your ankle and reduces further up your leg. When you walk or exercise your legs, compression stockings help the natural pump mechanism of the muscles in your leg to improve your circulation.
Compression stockings are available in several sizes and lengths. They are also available with different strengths of compression; class one to three. Class one stockings apply the least amount of pressure and class three stockings apply a much higher pressure. Your GP will advise which strength is appropriate for you.
For them to be effective, you need to wear your stockings constantly during the day. Usually you should take them off before you go to sleep, but your doctor may advise you to wear the stockings at night. Take them off every day to wash your legs and check the condition of your skin.
When checking your skin you need to look out for:
If you spot any of these signs, or if you're worried, don't put your stockings back on and talk to your GP.
Take care to prevent your skin becoming dry by applying an emulsifying cream to your legs. Your GP can recommend creams that are appropriate for you.
Hospitals often do a pre-operative risk assessment for DVT, which takes into account your health and the type of treatment or surgery you're having. Your surgeon will recommend appropriate preventive measures for you.
Your surgeon may ask you to wear low-pressure compression stockings (also called anti-embolitic, or thrombo-embolus deterrent – TED – stockings) before your surgery and to keep wearing them during your hospital stay. You may need to have an injection of an anticlotting medicine called heparin as well as, or instead of, wearing stockings.
Compression stockings are available in several sizes and lengths. Your nurse will measure your legs and recommend the correct compression stockings for you. He or she will record your stocking size and length but may need to re-measure your legs if they are swollen after surgery.
Your nurse will show you how to put the stockings on and may also give you advice about washing and taking care of your stockings once you're at home.
Your nurse will also teach you foot and ankle exercises that will help to encourage blood flow through your legs.
You may still be at risk of DVT after going home from hospital, depending on your health and the type of treatment or surgery you had. Your surgeon may ask you to keep wearing your stockings at home until you can move around as usual.
If you're travelling for a long time, you may be at a slightly higher risk of DVT, especially if you have other risk factors. Wear below-the-knee compression stockings if you're travelling for more than three hours and you:
There are different lengths of compression stockings that fit your leg differently.
Compression stockings are tighter at the foot than higher up the leg. They are difficult to put on and take off so you may need someone to help you with this. You will need to:
To help blood flow in your legs, don't sit or stand still, or lie in bed for long periods. Take regular walks around the house and do gentle foot and ankle exercises when sitting down.
You may need to wear your stockings for several weeks so it's important that you take care of them and wash them regularly. Make sure you have a spare set to wear while the others are being washed.
Always ask your GP or nurse for advice and follow the manufacturer's instructions that come with your compression stockings.
Typical care instructions are:
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: February 2011
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