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Wardrobe Woes: Hidden Health Hazards of Tight Clothing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Men and women who shoehorn themselves into skin-tight jeans, battle to button their trousers or knot their neckties too tightly might unknowingly suffer nerve damage, digestive disturbances and even potentially deadly blood clots.

They're victims of fashion's hidden health hazards.  Even some favorite accessories, like waist-cinching belts, can compress delicate nerves in the abdomen or constrain breathing and deprive the heart and brain of needed oxygen.

"Who hasn't tried to squeeze into a too-small pair of shoes, or wriggle into too-tight jeans?" said Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist in Tarrytown, N.Y., who started warning about too-constricting skinny jeans on her Consumer Reports blog back in 2009.  "Sometimes we realize right away that our choice of wardrobe or fashion is the culprit; other times, it only dawns on us when we begin to really suffer."

When patients seek medical help for pain radiating into the thigh, or feelings of numbness or tingling, it's unlikely they suspect that the cut of their jeans might be the problem.  But sharp-eyed physicians like Dr. Malvinder S. Parmar, medical director of Timmins & District Hospital in Ontario, Canada, might recognize the hallmarks of meralgia paresthetica, the compression of a nerve running from the pelvis into the outer thigh.

In 2003, Parmar published a description of "tingly thighs" in three "mildly obese" women who wore low-rise jeans throughout the previous few months.  Their discomforts resolved after four to six weeks "avoiding hiphuggers and wearing loose-fitting dresses," according to Parmar's 2003 correspondence in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Some clothing-related maladies go by mundane-sounding names that hardly hint at their potential to sicken.  For example, a middle-aged or older man whose belly hangs below the waist of his pants may suffer from "tight pants syndrome," a term coined in a 1993 article by Dr. Octavio Bessa, an internist in Stamford, Conn.

Bessa described a collection of gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain, heartburn and reflux a few hours after meals that he would see in 20 to 25 men every year.  The common thread: All wore ill-fitting pants with waistbands several inches smaller than their bellies, Bessa reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Three years later, two diagnostic imaging specialists from Wales described a "sporting variant" of tight-pants syndrome that they linked to tight Neoprene bike shorts worn to prevent muscular injury.

Wearing tight neckties and shirts with constricting collars can also impede blood flow through neck veins and arteries and may affect vision.  In a 2003 study of 40 men, half with glaucoma, three minutes with a tightened tie raised eye pressure among the majority of those with and without the disease.  Elevated eye pressure is a key element of diagnosing and monitoring glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio