Variable fit of DVT stockings may be risking patients' lives, new research reveals

Ill-fitting anti-embolism stockings potentially increase the number of preventable deaths in British hospitals, according to research by Dr Lisa Macintyre of Heriot-Watt University's School of Textiles and Design (published in The International Journal of Nursing Studies, July 2013 issue).

Call for survey of patient leg sizes

The research suggests that a wide-ranging international survey of patient leg sizes by clinicians is now urgently needed.

Most people believe that long-haul flights are the main cause of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), which can lead to Pulmonary Embolism (PE) but two thirds of cases are actually hospital-acquired and account for an estimated 25,000 hospital deaths in the UK [note 1].

Anti-embolism stockings are commonly used worldwide to prevent the development of thrombosis in hospitalised patients, if they are bed-bound or unable to keep moving while in hospital.

However it is critical that the stockings fit properly the patient's leg, to achieve optimum blood flow and help prevent the development of a DVT/PE.

Issues with sizing

Speaking about the research, Dr Macintyre said "The big finding of this work is that some brands claim (via their size charts) to match most legs but these are unlikely to deliver the correct pressure dose to all €˜matching' legs. Meanwhile other brands, who are perhaps clearer about which legs their stockings will fit, nevertheless manufacture stockings that are the wrong sizes for many people's legs, and in the worst case properly fit no one."

Dr Macintyre plans to extend her research to measure stocking pressure and develop a simple method for checking the safety of anti-embolism stockings.