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Why tight clothing exposes you to a number of serious health risks


Tight jeansAre you fond of wearing tight pants, skinny jeans, skirts, corsets and other restrictive, tight clothes?

Well, you are exposing yourself to a number of serious health risks.

According to a new research, just like tight pants cause infertility problems in men (overheating of the crotch area), they can also cause yeast infections, urinary tract infections in women and the most serious of them all, endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a condition where the cells that would normally be located on the lining of uterus (where monthly periods come from), are found to be located outside the uterus.

This is usually mainly along the surfaces of other pelvic organs like the ovaries, surfaces of the intestines, or even bladder.

Women with endometriosis usually have reduced fertility potential due to tubal damage and ovarian function disturbance.

A research carried out by Prof John Dickinson of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology links tight clothing to endometriosis, a gynaecological medical condition that can cause infertility in women.

The study titled Could tight garments cause endometriosis? says tight clothes may provide the force required to drive endometrial cells from the womb to accumulate in the ovaries.

This research is particularly important because many women consider tight clothes fashionable and trendy. Celebrities and everyday people alike have been squeezing into slimming, tight clothing for centuries.  Whether it was corsets in the Victorian Age or skinny jeans in modern times, the fashion to be thin has been unsurpassed.

Many times when we buy a pair of jeans, we buy them too tight to fit and we squeeze ourselves into them regardless of the pain it causes us while wearing them. Women love to copy the fashion world and when celebrities go for tight jeans, we follow suit.

Trendy as it may be, the research warns,

“There has never been a direct comparison of intra-abdominal solid tissue pressure between people wearing and not wearing commonplace tight abdominal garments. But it seems reasonable that such garments would produce at least a small sustained rise of intra-abdominal pressure.”

Prof Dickinson points out that the garments a woman wears during her menstrual days could be important.

“If the garments are so tight-fitting as to produce even a small sustained rise of intra-abdominal solid tissue pressure, retrograde menstruation is likely to occur when the garments are removed and when the salpingo-uterine junction is relaxed between uterine contractions,” he notes.

 His hunch is supported by the fact that the condition seems not to exist in countries where loose clothing is the norm.

 “Almost all women in India wear sarees and have no cosmetic need for constricting garments. Among about 9,000 articles in West African, Central African and East African medical journals, there is only one report of endometriosis from Central Africa, but the five women studied were all from professional classes and may have been wearing Western-style clothes,” he says.

Dr Alfred Murage, a consultant gynaecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Aga Khan University Hospital, concurs with the study.

“This may also translate into changes in pressure inside the pelvic organs, which may disrupt uterine function. Potential spillage of cells from inside the uterus to abnormal locations in the pelvis may then be implicated as a cause for endometriosis,” says Murage.

He cites other conditions that arise as a result of wearing tight clothes, including numbness due to compression of nerves, muscular cramps due to compression of blood vessels, direct effects on the skin due to pressure of tight clothes, heartburn due to back pressure on the stomach and small intestines and in severe cases, low blood pressure and fainting due to reduced blood to the heart.

Beth Wangui says: “From the little I know, when women’s pubic areas are kept tightly under wraps, the area becomes warm and moist. This makes it a breeding ground for bacteria and, as a result, can cause yeast infections. The vaginal area becomes itchy, irritating and painful. Tight clothes and under garments also slow down the rate of digestion, causing indigestion.”

Connecting the relationship between fashion and health, Murage says it is best to wear well-fitting clothes.

“If it is necessary to wear tight clothes, this should be limited to just occasional periods, with reversal to loosely fitting clothes as soon as possible.”

His sentiments are echoed by Dr John Ong’ech, a consultant gynaecologist and Head of Reproductive Health at the Kenyatta National Hospital, who says women should avoid tight clothes.

“There is published evidence of a link between tight clothes and endometriosis. The increase in intra-abdominal pressure may cause retrograde menstruation thus causing endometriosis, a cause of infertility,” says Ong’ech.

 He adds: “Other possible health issues of tight clothes include low standards of hygiene, which result into recurrent pelvic infection. Obese women and those using corsets are also likely to have endometriosis.  I have seen many cases of endometriosis in Kenya but it is difficult to link them directly to tight clothing, but they tend to be evident in women of higher social class who have more tendency of putting on tight clothes.”

Ruth Malecha, a 30-year-old who works at a publishing firm in Nairobi agrees that skinny jeans and tight tops are a health risk.

“I have no doubt that tight undergarments can be harmful. But as for tight tops and jeans, I don’t mind them. I don’t think they are a fashion mistake. If they are, then more civic education needs to be done to enlighten women on their possible dangers,” she says.

Dr Ignatius Kibe, a pharmacologist who also doubles up as a reproductive health expert says it has been possible to scientifically blame infertility on tight garments and subsequently associate infertility to endometriosis.

“When a woman’s menstrual flow is forced to retrograde or flow back from the cervix upwards, it is said to be retrograde flow. When someone wears tight garments, there will be increased intra-abdominal flow from the cervix to the upper parts of the uterus,” says Kibe.”

Pressure on the cervix forces any fluid to push backwards. Such sustained rise of intra-abdominal pressure, which will be intermittently released when one wants to go for short or long calls will definitely cause disturbances in the endometrium.

He adds: “Tight fitting clothes do not allow air flow to the external and urinary reproductive organs.  This predisposes one to proliferation of urinary tract and sexually transmitted diseases such as yeast, chlamydia, mixed infections and cystitis. All these conditions can precipitate blocked fallopian tubes resulting into sterility.”

Jean Mbaka, a waitress at a local restaurant who was a fan of tight clothes, has learnt the hard way.

“I suffered severe episodes of abdominal pain due to tight jeans and experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure,” says Jean.

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