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Spanx, Shapewear May Cause Organ Compression, Other Health Issues

Jan 23, 2014

Although Spanx and other shapewear come with promises of a sleeker look and smooth lines, they may also be causing internal harm.

According to a number of experts, when shapewear is worn, organs are being compressed. The Huffington Post spoke with Dr. John Kuemmerle, a gastroenterologist; Dr. Maryann Mikhail, a dermatologist; and Dr. Karen Erickson, a chiropractor, to better understand what the wearing of Spanx and shapewear, in general, is doing to our bodies.

To create a sleek look with no lines and to give the appearance of a slimmer body, shapewear must be tight. This can, according to Dr. Kuemmerle, compress your stomach, intestines, and colon; can worsen acid reflux; and may lead to erosive esophagitis, The Huffington Post reported. Dr. Erickson also noted that the digestive tract will be impacted. Consider that the intestines are meant to contract so that food may travel. When compressed over time, digestive flow is suppressed. "It's like when people eat a huge meal and then unbuckle their jeans," Dr. Kuemmerle says.

Neurologist, Orly Avitzur, MD, a medical advisor for Consumer Reports, also told WebMD that, too-tight shapewear might lead to health issues. "Any time we put on really tight garments, we take the risk of compressing organs or nerves." In her practice, says Avitzur, MD, patients have complained of tingling and numbness in various body areas and traced the culprit to restrictive clothing that includes shapewear.

A celebrity trend that is gaining traction is the practice of layering shapewear, which Avitzur MD says increases the likelihood of nerve or organ compression, according to WebMD. Shapewear compression also may lead to respiratory issues, including shallow breath. During normal inhalation, the diaphragm expands, flaring the abdomen outward, Dr. Erickson tells The Huffington Post. Shapewear restricts this process, interrupting normal breathing.

Dr. Kuemmerle explains that people with bowl disorders should exercise caution when considering shapewear. "In someone who has weakness down below and a tendency towards incontinence," Dr. Kuemmerle explains to The Huffington Post, "increasing intra-abdominal pressure can certainly provoke episodes of incontinence." Also, "You've got all of this pressure on your bladder from the shapewear pressing down," she says. "If you postpone urinating, it can cause stress incontinence, where you leak, or it can exaggerate stress incontinence with people who already have it."

Sitting in shapewear can lead to meralgia paresthetica, which involves compression of the thigh’s peripheral nerve, which also leads to tingling, numbness, and pain in the legs. This may be intermittent or constant. "It's like putting these giant rubber bands around your upper thighs and tightening them when you sit," Dr. Erickson says, according to The Huffington Post. This may lead to a decrease in circulation and blood clots and, in people prone to varicosities, varicose veins and lymph congestions, which may be seen as swollen ankles.

Shapewear may create an environment in the body that enables infections because of its occlusive—moisture trapping—tendencies. Consider yeast and bacterial infections, and folliculitis (red, pus-filled bumps) says Dr. Mikhail. "But recurrent infections may develop antibiotic resistance, meaning they get harder and harder to treat," Dr. Mikhail told The Huffington Post.

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