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Venous Ulcers

When you get a cut or scrape, your body's healing process kicks in to close the wound, and in time, the wound heals. Open skin sores called ulcers, however, may not heal without proper treatment.

Ulcers can affect any area of the skin but commonly occur on the legs. Leg ulcers caused by circulation problems with the veins in the legs are known as venous ulcers.

Causes of venous ulcers

Venous ulcers most often form around the ankles. In fact, 70 percent of all leg ulcers are in this area.

Illustration of a venous ulcer

Venous ulcers typically occur as a result of damage to the valves inside the veins of the leg. These valves control the pressure inside the veins and allow it to drop when you walk. If the blood pressure inside the leg veins doesn't fall as you're walking, the condition is known as sustained venous hypertension. That increase in pressure causes the ulcers to form on the ankles.

Venous ulcers may be caused by other problems with the veins in the legs, including varicose veins and a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when the veins in the legs are unable to pump blood back to the heart. This causes blood to pool in the lower legs and the legs to swell. Because the blood can't circulate well in the legs, the legs may swell significantly. This extreme swelling can put so much pressure on the skin that venous ulcers form.

Caring for venous ulcers

Venous ulcers require treatment and care to prevent infection and to help the ulcers heal, so it's important to have any venous ulcers examined immediately by a health care provider.

Treatment may require addressing the circulatory or vein problems that are causing the ulcers or removing some tissue around the wound. You may be asked to:

  • Clean the wound regularly.

  • Apply a dressing to the ulcer.

  • Avoid products that cause skin sensitivity.

  • Wear compression stockings to prevent blood from pooling in the legs and to speed healing.

  • Apply an antibacterial ointment or another topical to prevent or treat an infection.

  • Take oral antibiotic medications to prevent or treat an infection.

  • Undergo allergy testing.

Wearing a compression wrap to keep blood flowing back up to the heart can also help ulcers heal more quickly. Sometimes, surgery or a skin graft is required to close up the opening in the skin.

Preventing venous ulcers

To prevent venous ulcers, you first need to prevent vein problems. You can do this by promoting good circulation in the legs. These lifestyle changes can improve your circulation and reduce the risk for venous ulcers:

  • Avoid smoking.

  • Lose weight if you're overweight or obese.

  • Maintain your ideal weight.

  • Get plenty of regular exercise.

  • Move around frequently.

  • Elevate your legs for a short period, especially if you've been standing all day.

Wearing compression stockings can also prevent blood from pooling in the legs, help you avoid significant swelling, and reduce the risk for venous ulcers.