Venous stasis ulcers, also called “venous leg ulcers,” are wounds on the skin. They are due to a pooling of blood in veins. These ulcers happen most often on the legs. Usually, mild injuries and wounds heal with time. The average time it takes for people to recover from injuries varies; however, there is a limit that indicates a deficiency in the process when it is exceeded. Some wounds take longer than expected to heal, and medical treatment may be necessary for those affected to recover fully. Without proper treatment, venous stasis ulcers can become worse and more uncomfortable to live with.
How Do Venous Stasis Ulcers Develop?
Venous stasis ulcers are a sign of venous insufficiency, a condition that impacts up to 2.5 million people in the United States. Many of the veins affected are deep in the legs and are responsible for delivering oxygen-rich blood to the heart. When they become weak or damaged, valves that regulate blood flow malfunction and fail to sustain proper blood circulation, making it difficult for leg, ankle, and foot wounds or ulcers to heal.
Some of the primary causes are:
Edema occurs when excess fluid leaks and accumulates in the lower extremities, causing swelling and pain. Poor body mechanics and inflammatory conditions are common risk factors.
Venous hypertension occurs when the pressure inside of the veins is elevated. It can be caused by smoking, obesity, prolonged periods of standing, and a lack of exercise.
Venous insufficiency occurs when the proper flow of blood from the perforating veins deep in the legs to the superficial veins of the heart is compromised or restricted. Venous insufficiency is also known as deep vein insufficiency, and obesity and clots in leg veins (deep vein thrombosis) are the most common risk factors.
Veins unable to sustain proper circulation for long periods can develop back-flowing blood, adding additional pressure to the affected limb. Wounds that develop in these areas tend to have significant healing impairments and can become infected when left untreated.
Venous Stasis Ulcer Risk Factors
Venous stasis wounds typically develop on the lower extremities, near bony and non-fleshy areas. These areas are vulnerable because of their proximity to certain risk factors.
A variety of factors can raise your risk of venous ulcers. They include:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Family history of venous disease
- Older age
- Previous injury
- Sedentary lifestyle with limited physical activity
- Surgery, such as a knee replacement
- Varicose and spider veins
Symptoms of Venous Ulcer
There are many signs of venous ulcers, including:
- Leg swelling and cramping.
- Dull ache or feeling of heaviness in the leg or calf.
- Itchiness and tingling, red-colored skin.
- Signs of pooling blood, including dark red, purple, and brown spots with hardened skin.
- The skin surrounding the ulcers may be shiny, tight, warm, or hot to the touch.
- The borders of the ulcers may be unevenly shaped.
How can I prevent ulcers?
Preventive care can help you avoid venous stasis ulcers or reduce the recurrence risk after treatment.
Ulcer prevention includes:
- Keeping up with treatments for chronic conditions like high blood pressure that affect vein health.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Quit smoking
- If prescribed, take blood thinners (anticoagulants) to avoid blood clots.
Why is it essential to seek venous ulcer treatment?
Venous ulcers do not heal on their own; a physician must treat them. The longer you live with them, the greater the likelihood of permanent tissue damage that can spread and cause infections, such as gangrene. These infections may become life- or limb-threatening.
In severe cases, it may be necessary to remove the affected limb surgically. The earlier you seek treatment from an experienced wound care provider, the lower your risk for amputation.
What are some Ulcer Treatments?
The appropriate therapy for your ulcer depends on its location and severity. It would help if you visited your physician to know the best treatment for you. Typically, treatment involves frequent follow-up visits to ensure that the treatment plan works properly.
Ulcer treatments often include:
- Antibiotics if there’s an infection.
- Compression bandages or stockings to improve circulation.
- Ointments that protect against germs.
- Pain relievers and other therapies to quiet overactive nerves.
- Referrals to specialists if you need help managing chronic conditions like diabetes.
- Special bandages and dressings to keep the ulcer covered.
- Wound cleaning daily to flush out bacteria and remove dead tissue.
- Surgery or vein ablation – Sometimes, minor surgery (wound debridement) or vein ablation (a nonsurgical technique that closes a vein) is used to remove any nonliving tissue that keeps a wound from healing properly.
For more information about venous stasis ulcers, don’t hesitate to contact Coastal Vascular Center at 713-999-6056 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Ayar.