Venous Skin Ulcer
What is a venous skin ulcer?
A skin ulcer is a type of wound that develops on the skin. A venous skin ulcer is a shallow wound that occurs when the leg veins don't return blood back toward the heart the way they should. This is called venous insufficiency. See a picture of abnormal blood flow caused by venous insufficiency.
These ulcers usually form on the sides of the lower leg, above the ankle and below the calf. See a picture of areas affected by venous skin ulcers.
Venous skin ulcers are slow to heal and often come back if you don't take steps to prevent them.
A venous skin ulcer is also called a stasis leg ulcer.
What causes venous skin ulcers?
Venous skin ulcers are caused by poor blood circulation from the legs, such as from venous insufficiency. Your veins have one-way valves that keep blood flowing toward the heart. In venous insufficiency, the valves are damaged, and blood backs up and pools in the vein. The blood may leak out of the vein and into the surrounding tissue. This can lead to a breakdown of the tissue and an ulcer.
Veins that become blocked also may cause blood to pool, leading to these ulcers.
Some things can increase your risk of venous skin ulcers. These include:
There are two other types of skin ulcers that can happen on the lower leg or feet. They are different from venous skin ulcers.
What are the symptoms?
The first sign of a venous skin ulcer is skin that turns dark red or purple over the area where the blood is leaking out of the vein. The skin also may become thick, dry, and itchy.
Without treatment, an ulcer may form. The ulcer may be painful. You also may have swollen and achy legs.
If the wound becomes infected, the infection may cause an odor, and pus may drain from the wound. The area around the wound also may be more tender and red.
Call your doctor when you first notice the signs of a venous skin ulcer, because you may be able to prevent the ulcer from forming. If an ulcer has formed, get treatment right away, because new and smaller ulcers tend to heal faster than larger ones.
How are venous skin ulcers diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose venous skin ulcers by asking questions about your health and looking at your legs. Your doctor may also use duplex Doppler ultrasound. This test shows how well blood is moving through the lower leg.
Your doctor may use other tests to check for problems related to venous skin ulcers or to recheck the ulcer if it does not heal within a few weeks after the start of treatment.
How are they treated?
The first step involves improving blood circulation. To do this, you can:
To help your ulcer heal, your doctor may also remove dead tissue from the wound (debridement).
After your ulcer has healed, continue to wear compression stockings. Take them off only when you bathe and sleep. Compression therapy helps your blood circulate and helps prevent other ulcers from forming.
If your ulcer doesn't heal within a few months, your doctor may advise other treatment, such as:
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