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Woman with Leg Ulcers

Seven Causes of Leg Ulcers and Your Treatment Options

Mar 30, 2022Arterial Disease, Peripheral Vascular Disease, Vascular Disease

Leg ulcers are no joke. As many as 1.69% of Americans experience leg ulcers at some point in their lives. 

Ulcers can cause significant pain and tissue damage, and they can lead to amputation. If you want to keep your legs safe, you should know about leg ulcers in detail.

What are the most common leg ulcer causes? Can you experience different types of ulcers? What are some different leg ulcer treatments? 

If you know the answers to these questions, then you can be part of the solution for leg ulcers. Here are the seven most common causes of ulcers.

1. Venous Disease

Your veins allow blood to return to your heart after it has traveled to your tissues. But if your veins sag or become damaged, blood can pool in them, resulting in ulcers. 

Varicose veins are a complication of venous disease. Blood pools inside the veins close to the skin, and they can appear twisted and discolored. 

However, varicose veins are not ulcers. Ulcers are unhealed sores while varicose veins are just veins filled with blood. The skin is not broken, so a person cannot develop an infection from varicose veins. 

Some people have venous disease because they are immobile, so increasing your exercise may help your blood flow. If you have blood clots, you can take clot-dissolving agents so your blood will not pool behind your clots.

Venous disease may cause ulcers in the lower parts of the leg. They may be on the back of your leg, so they can be hard to see unless you are looking for them. Monitor your legs closely and track how your skin appears over time.

2. Arterial Disease

Your arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the tissues of the body. Peripheral artery disease is a type of arterial disease that affects the leg arteries. If fatty plaque builds up in your legs, your legs may not receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. 

Over time, tissues in the legs can begin to weaken, forming ulcers. Ulcers from arterial disease can appear on the feet or around the ankles, making it hard to walk. Some people experience extreme pain from them, especially after exertion or late at night while they are lying down. 

Arterial disease can lead to other problems, including cardiac arrest. It requires immediate treatment, which may involve surgical procedures like stenting. 

3. Deep Vein Thrombosis

Your deep veins are blood vessels below your skin, which supply blood to your muscles. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood-clotting disorder. Cells bunch together within the deep veins, preventing the blood from flowing through.

DVT occurs most often in the legs. If you sit down and don’t move for a long period of time, the blood can collect in your legs and eventually clot. Surgeries and injuries can also cause blood cells to clot together. 

Like arterial disease, DVT causes ulcers because cells in the legs don’t receive a sufficient supply of blood. DVT ulcers can be large, discolored, and extremely painful. DVT can cause an embolism, so you should go to the hospital if you have the condition.

4. Diabetes

5% of people with diabetes develop foot ulcers. Diabetes can impede the flow of blood to the feet, causing skin and nerve cells to die. When blood arrives in the feet, it can contain a high amount of glucose, which can harm the development of cells. 

Diabetic foot ulcers can go through stages. A callus may develop on the skin, which a person may believe is just dry skin.

As nerve cells begin to die, the skin erodes and forms an upper wound. The skin cells around the wound can dry out, making the wound bigger. Blood may not be able to reach the ulcer, which can lead to gangrene. 

It is extremely important that diabetic ulcers be treated immediately. If ulcers progress, the affected foot may need to be amputated. Managing your blood sugar levels and getting enough exercise is usually enough to prevent ulcers.

5. Cancer

Cancer can indirectly cause ulcers. Blood may not flow to the skin, causing it to split open after an accident or injury. A person’s immune system may slow down due to cancer, increasing the possibility of infection or cell death. Some skin cancers can replicate the appearance of ulcers. When you notice any ulcer or something that looks like an ulcer on your skin you should always seek medical attention.

6. Kidney Disease

Kidney disease can cause several different problems in the legs. The legs can retain sodium, resulting in swelling in the feet and ankles. Ulcers can then develop because the legs lack nutrients. 

If you have kidney disease, you can protect your legs by rubbing creams on your skin. Try to get as much exercise as possible and clean your skin every night to keep it moisturized.

7. Smoking

Smoking can cause ulcers throughout the body, including in the intestines. Inhaling cigarette smoke prompts blood vessels to narrow, preventing blood flow in the legs.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke can impede the healing process, making skin infections and nerve damage worse. In any event smoking is hazardous to your health and you should stop smoking as soon as possible. 

The Many Different Causes of Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers can occur at any time. Venous disease, arterial disease, and deep vein thrombosis are the three biggest causes of ulcers. They can create prominent and painful ulcers, but they are reversible. 

Diabetes and cancer can also create ulcers. You must receive treatment for these pre-existing conditions before you can tackle your ulcers.

Kidney disease and smoking are rare causes. But they impede immune responses and blood flow, so they can lead to gangrenous wounds. 

When you have ulcers, you need all the help you can get. Coastal Vascular Center serves Houston residents. Contact us today.