The underwear that can transform your health
From preventing fractures and embarrassing leaks to boosting fertility: The underwear that can transform your health!
Underwear might not be something that features on the medical school curriculum, but the right undergarments can make a real difference to people with certain conditions and complications or following surgery. Here, experts assess some of the products. We then rated them…
Fact: In the UK, around 55,000 women a year undergo a hysterectomy
POST-HYSTERECTOMY ‘BANDAGE’ CORSET
Abdominal support band, £10.99, hysterectomy-association.org.uk
This is essentially a large, elasticated ‘bandage’ that fits snugly around the waist and abdomen to reduce strain on the lower abdominal muscles (during bending or lifting) as you recover from surgery. It restricts movement that can otherwise cause pain.
EXPERT VERDICT: In the UK, around 55,000 women a year undergo a hysterectomy — this major surgery can leave them in pain and discomfort in the weeks and months afterwards.
Professor Hasib Ahmed, a consultant gynaecologist at Medway NHS Foundation Trust in Kent, says these supports are potentially beneficial for women after an ‘open’ hysterectomy — where the uterus is removed through an abdominal incision, especially if the incision is vertical, rather than a low, horizontal one.
‘They stop excess movement in the muscles around the wound, allowing it to heal more quickly. However, in the case of keyhole surgery, they are unlikely to aid recovery.’ 4/5
STOCKINGS FOR VARICOSE VEINS
Increasingly common: Varicose veins – or lymphedema – affects some 200,000 Britons
Venosan 5000 silver stockings, from £49, daylong.co.uk
These stockings are a type of compression hose largely for people with varicose veins or lymphedema, which affects some 200,000 Britons, causing swelling in the arms or legs due to a problem in the lymphatic system, which helps remove fluid and waste from the tissues.
These stockings have silver strands woven into the fibre, as silver has been shown to be antibacterial. Patients with circulation problems must avoid infection, as their wounds take longer to heal.
EXPERT VERDICT: Thousands of people in the UK routinely wear compression stockings to improve blood flow in the lower leg. ‘While silver has known antibacterial properties, there’s no good evidence silver-impregnated clothes reduce infection risk,’ says Professor Mark Wilcox, head of microbiology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. ‘Probably not a worthwhile spend.’ 1/5
MEN’S ANTI-LEAK UNDERPANTS
Smart: These underpants have a fibrous inner layer, made from bamboo, to absorb urine
Confitex men’s briefs, £29.99, confitex.co.uk
These look and feel like ordinary underpants, but have a fibrous inner layer, made from bamboo, to absorb urine.
They come in varying levels of absorbency — light for up to 25ml (five teaspoons) a day, to high, up to 200ml (nearly a cup).
EXPERT VERDICT: An estimated one in ten men over 65 suffers regular leaks. One of the main risk factors is prostate problems due to ageing, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, where the prostate ‘grows’, pressing on the bladder.
Men who have undergone prostate cancer surgery can also suffer problems as a result of nerve damage.
‘These briefs could be really useful, especially for older men with overactive bladder,’ says Marc Laniado, a consultant urological surgeon at Wexham Park NHS Hospital in Berkshire. ‘Some men dislike using “nappy-style” incontinence pads and might find these preferable.’ 5/5
These unisex pants have either hard plastic shields or soft foam pads sewn into the side
HIP PROTECT LONGJOHNS
Fall-Safe hip protectors & pants, £59.95, hips-protect.com
These unisex pants protect the hips against fracture during a fall: they have either hard plastic shields or soft foam pads sewn into the sides. They are for elderly or frail people.
EXPERT VERDICT: A major review in 2014 by the authoritative Cochrane organisation concluded that hip protector pants work, but reduce the fracture risk only by about 13 per cent.
Elaine Leyland, a specialist nurse at the National Osteoporosis Society, says: ‘Correct fitting and positioning of the pads will ensure they’re comfy and more likely to be worn whenever the person is at risk, even at night.’ 3/5
SOCKS FOR DIABETES
Best foot forward: These socks are meant to help lower the risk of foot ulcers
1000 Mile diabetic socks, £7.79 a pair, amazon.co.uk
These machine-washable socks (apparently they only start to wear after ‘1,000 miles’ in them) are made from polyester and cotton, with thick, padded areas in the sole, toe and heel to reduce pressure on the skin.
They are meant to help lower the risk of foot ulcers, a complication of diabetes — the disease can severely affect circulation in the lower limbs, as a result of damage to the small blood vessels caused by high blood sugar. This increases the risk of amputation.
EXPERT VERDICT: Research shows cushioned socks can reduce the risk of foot ulcers by up to a third in patients, says Professor Andrew Boulton, a diabetes specialist at Manchester Royal Infirmary. ‘[But] if you’re going to buy some, check the manufacturer has the medical evidence to show they work and make sure they are the exact fit, as any friction could break the skin.’ 4/5
BRA FOR AFTER HEART SURGERY
Risk: Women are more likely to have surgical site infections after a heart operation
BHIS bra: post-op heart surgery support, £29.63, herniasupportbelt.co.uk
Research shows that women are more likely to have surgical site infections after a heart operation, as poor-fitting bras can cause the wound to gape. This increases the risk of infection.
Designed by specialist nurses at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust in London, this bra has larger-than-normal panels under the arms to distribute the pressure evenly around the upper torso and take pressure from the front, reducing the wound being pulled or pushed.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘There is some evidence that medical bras can help women after surgery,’ says Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation. ‘But a front-fastening one, while useful for accessing wounds, doesn’t work for everyone, as there’s a risk the fastening can press on the incision and cause unnecessary discomfort.’ 3/5
This belt-like support has an adjustable soft pad that can be placed directly over a hernia
‘G-STRING’ FOR GROIN HERNIAS
Neo G double lower hernia support, £29, Boots
Hernias are where part of the body’s internal structure pushes through a weak spot in a muscle wall. They occur mainly in the groin (an inguinal hernia) or the stomach (a hiatus hernia). An inguinal type typically causes a bulge and can obstruct the bowel.
This belt-like support has an adjustable soft pad that can be placed directly over an inguinal hernia, to ease the strain when lifting, bending and so on.
EXPERT VERDICT: ‘Some men use these supports while waiting for surgery, but others as a substitute for surgery, simply because they don’t want to have an operation,’ says Mr Laniado. ‘I normally say don’t bother — they don’t solve the problem and only postpone the inevitability of surgery.’ 2/5
Confidence-boosting: About 20,000 women have a mastectomy each and every year
NIGHT DRESS FOR BREAST CANCER PATIENTS
Amoena glam night dress, £37.50, amoena.com
Designed to keep a breast prosthesis in place during sleep, this night dress is 95 per cent viscose and 5 per cent elastane.
EXPERT VERDICT: About 20,000 women have a mastectomy every year — while many have a reconstruction, some choose to use prostheses that sit in pockets sewn into the cups.
‘This is a great product,’ says Tena Walters, a breast cancer surgeon at the Portland Hospital in London. ‘It’s important that these women feel good about themselves, even in bed.’ 5/5
FERTILITY BOOST PANTS FOR MEN
Snowballs, £53.64 for two pairs, snowballsunderwear.eu
Cool! Cooling the testicles improves fertility by increasing sperm count and quality
These underpants have two ‘pockets’ in the area that rests against the scrotum, to hold sachets of frozen gel.
The idea is cooling the testicles improves fertility by increasing sperm count and quality.
EXPERT VERDICT: Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at Sheffield University, says: ‘There’s evidence men who wear tight underwear have poorer semen quality, but no one has ever done a study to show that if they switch to looser (or cooler) pants, things will improve. I suspect loose, boxer-type pants would be just as good.’ 2/5
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