If you have a sore on your leg that refuses to heal, you may just brush it off as a slow-healing wound. However, a wound that refuses to heal may actually be a venous ulcer. Learn what you need to know about venous ulcers, including symptoms and treatment options.
The Anatomy of a Venous Ulcer
A venous ulcer, also referred to as a stasis ulcer, occurs when the vein in your leg neglects to force the blood in the vein back to your heart. This causes pressure to build up within the vein, eventually resulting in the appearance of a sore on the skin as the blood and fluid leak into the surrounding tissues.
Venous ulcers most commonly appear on the legs, though they can also occur on other areas of the body.
Symptoms of a Venous Ulcer
The earliest symptoms of a venous ulcer include swelling and cramping in the leg. Your leg may feel heavier than normal, and you may have itching or tingling.
Right before the venous ulcer starts to break through your skin, you’ll notice a red, blue, or purple spot underneath the skin similar in appearance to a bruise. This colored spot breaks through the skin, creating a sore that won’t heal on its own. Once the sore appears, expect your pain levels in your leg to intensify.
Causes of a Venous Ulcer
A number of different factors contribute to the formation of a venous ulcer, like a blood clot, trauma to the leg, and inflammation. Most of the causes of a venous ulcer ultimately decrease the body’s ability to effectively pump blood, resulting in poor circulation or the body’s inability to maintain the correct blood pressure.
Damage to the veins interferes with the body’s ability to control the pressure in the veins. Uncontrolled pressure means that the blood may flow in the wrong direction. If your body can’t circulate your blood correctly, blood may build up in your veins.
Treatment Options for a Venous Ulcer
Treatment for a venous ulcer requires a combination of wound care and managing the underlying causes of the ulcer. Once you have an open venous ulcer, you’ll need to take steps to keep it from getting infected. This involves regularly cleaning and dressing the wound.
You should also try to keep the area around the venous ulcer dry; wet skin is softer than dry skin, and the softness makes it easier for the ulcer to grow in size. Regularly wearing compression stockings can keep blood from continuing to pool in the leg. Some patients find that propping the leg up can hasten the healing process.
Your vein specialist may perform surgery on the vein leading to the venous ulcer if conventional treatment options aren’t working, if the ulcer continually reappears, or if the ulcer is large or infected. Surgery focuses on opening the vein so that it has better blood flow.
Other Techniques to Prevent a Venous Ulcer
There are a few things you can do to prevent a venous ulcer from appearing or reappearing. If you smoke, now is the time to stop. Smoking is known to make it harder for your body to heal, and it can affect your body’s ability to circulate your blood.
Take steps to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. This decreases your chances of suffering from conditions that can impede your circulatory system. Regular exercise is another option to promote a healthy circulatory system.
If your body is prone to developing inflammation, your doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory lifestyle changes, such as altering your diet.