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What Are Leg Ulcers?

Anytime a wound won’t heal on the legs, usually the lower leg, this is a leg ulcer. The original wound could be a cut to the tissue, or the wound could simply develop in an area where the skin is not getting the nutrients and oxygen it needs from the blood, causing the tissue cells to die, forming a wound.

The term ulcer is applied when the condition lasts far longer than a normal injury to the skin should take to heal.

The Causes Of A Leg Ulcer

Venous leg ulcers develop due to high pressure in the veins of the lower leg. The veins have one-way valves whose job is to keep blood flowing in one direction back up to the heart. In some people these valves become weak or begin to malfunction, or the veins can become scarred or blocked. This allows the blood to flow backward and pool in the veins. This raises the pressure in the lower leg veins. This increase in pressure and the buildup of fluid prevents nutrients and oxygen from getting to the tissues. This causes the skin cells to die, creating a wound. These wounds often form over bony areas, such as the ankle.

What Are The Symptoms Of Leg Ulcers?

A venous leg ulcer often feels itchy or burns, and the leg in the area will be swollen.


These are other symptoms:

  • A rash or dry skin

  • A brownish discoloration of the skin

  • A foul-smelling fluid oozing from the sore

  • The skin surrounding the wound may be shiny, tight, warm or hot, and discolored

If a leg ulcer becomes infects, these are other signs:

  • Redness or swelling of the surrounding skin

  • Worsening pain

  • Fever

  • Pus

The Risk Factors For Developing Leg Ulcers

Risk factors to develop leg ulcers include:

  • Varicose veins

  • History of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs)

  • Older age

  • Being tall

  • Being female

  • Family history

  • Blockage of the lymph vessels

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Smoking

  • Sitting or standing for long periods

  • Fracture in the leg or other serious injuries such as burns

How Are Leg Ulcers Treated?

The goal of treatment is to lower the higher pressure in the lower leg veins. The first option is to use compression bandages or compression stockings on the leg. This will improve blood circulation by providing pressure onto the weak vein, stopping blood pooling. The area will again receive the nutrients and oxygen it needs to heal the skin.


Beyond compression stockings, these are other treatments:

  • Elevation of the limb — To lower the pressure in the leg veins, the legs need to be elevated. The higher the leg, the lower the pressure. If the foot is elevated above the heart then the pressure in the foot drops to a normal level. For leg ulcers, we’ll recommend raising your leg above your heart for a half-hour at a time, 3 to 4 times a day. Even for those without leg ulcer problems, elevating your legs daily at some point is helpful.

  • Wound care — We’ll show you how to properly bandage and care for your wound.

  • Surgery — If your leg ulcer is due to varicose veins, we have various options such as sclerotherapy, laser ablation, and ambulatory phlebectomy to close off the malfunctioning vein or veins. This is done after your ulcer has healed.

  • Medications — We’ll provide pain medication as needed. We’ll also likely put you on a course of antibiotics.

How To Prevent These Leg Ulcers From Recurring

Sometimes when a patient’s ulcerated wound heals, they think all is well. But it’s likely the causes of your circulation haven’t been fully removed.


You’ll need to think of prevention with some lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking — Smoking constricts blood vessels, which is the last thing you need.

  • Lose weight — The heavier you are the more pressure is placed on your legs.

  • Exercise — Movement increases blood flow, which helps keep your veins healthy.

  • Eat better — Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

  • Control chronic conditions — If you have diabetes, it’s important to consistently manage your blood sugar levels. If you have high blood pressure, work to bring it down to normal levels.

  • Wear compression stockings — If you have to stand a lot for work, wear compression stockings to help your veins fight gravity.

  • Elevate your legs whenever possible — When at your desk at work or reading or watching TV, try and elevate your legs from time to time.

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