A leg ulcer is an open sore that’s slow to heal. A minor injury or excess pressure against the skin can cause the skin to break. Under normal circumstances, people with such an injury heal without much fuss. However, people prone to leg ulcers have an underlying condition that impacts the ability of wounds to heal.
Most patients who develop leg ulcers have been told that they have poor circulation in the legs. Staying on top of leg ulcers is key to preventing potentially serious complications. At CA Heart and Vein Specialists, cardiovascular physician Dr. Majed Chane and our team educate patients on the warning signs of leg ulcers.
What causes leg ulcers?
Venous disease, a condition that occurs when the valves in the leg veins fail to function properly, is the most common cause of leg ulcers. Complications from conditions like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis also can lead to leg ulcers. Other causes of leg ulcers are:
- Blood clots
- Varicose veins
Some patients have more than once factor contributing to chronic leg ulcers.
Veins and their function
Each time your heart beats, a network of blood vessels circulates blood throughout your body. Arteries carry blood away from your heart, while veins return blood back to the heart.
Healthy veins are flexible hollow tubes with valves inside that open and close when your muscles contract to keep blood flowing in the right direction. If the valves are weak and unable to close completely, blood can leak backward.
The veins in your legs have to push against gravity to carry blood from your feet toward your heart. Venous disease occurs when the valves are damaged or otherwise dysfunctional. Instead of keeping blood flowing in one direction, blood pools in the legs and creates high pressure when standing up. It’s this abnormally high force that leads to breaks in the skin and slow-healing ulcers.
Leg ulcer warning signs and dangers
Red flags may show up well before an open sore develops. Because leg ulcers don’t always cause pain as they form, it’s crucial to spot the warning signs early so you can seek immediate treatment. Prior to an open sore appearing, patients may notice the following symptoms in the affected leg:
- Warm to the touch
- Dry, scaly skin
Left untreated, leg ulcers pose a significant risk to your health. Prolonged open sores expose the tissue to air and bacteria, putting you at a heightened risk for infection. If you notice a sore that hasn’t healed in two weeks, it’s best to contact your care team right away.
In rare cases, infection can lead to life-threatening complications such as blood poisoning or one infection. With treatment, most leg ulcers heal gradually but steadily.
Preventing and treating leg ulcers
Patients can take several steps to lower their chances of developing leg ulcers. Here are our top tips:
- Limit sodium intake
- Lose weight if you’re overweight
- Maintain healthy blood pressure
- Quit smoking if you smoke
- Manage conditions like diabetes
- Engage in physical activity (walking is a good place to start)
- See your provider for regular checkups
Leg ulcers need proper treatment to heal and prevent infection. Dr. Chane advises patients on proper self-care, including:
- Wound cleaning
- Applying a dressing
- Applying antibacterial ointment
- Wearing compression stockings
Treatment may also involve managing underlying circulatory problems.
Leg ulcers and the conditions that cause them require proper care and management. Partnering with a vein specialist is the first step to effective management of venous conditions. Contact our team at 657-206-8630 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Chane at our Huntington Beach, California, office or use our convenient online scheduling tool.