Venous ulcers. Youch! Although people don’t talk about venous ulcers as often as stomach ulcers, they’re the most common type of chronic lower extremity wound. They affect 1% to 3% of Americans, significantly affecting quality of life and our pocketbooks.
To avoid venous ulcers forming or to keep them from getting worse, you need to know the “venous ulcer essentials.” So in this article, we’ll answer the following questions that frequently appear on internet searches. That way, you’ll have all the information you need to hand.
- How do venous ulcers form?
- Where are venous ulcers usually located?
- What do venous ulcers look like?
- Are venous ulcers painful?
- Can venous ulcers heal?
- Do venous ulcers cause death?
- Can venous ulcers lead to amputation?
- Who treats venous ulcers?
Let’s get started!
How Venous Ulcers Form
Venous ulcers usually form due to venous reflux and venous reflux (a.k.a. venous hypertension) is simply an increase in the pressure inside the veins.
Venous hypertension is caused by blood pooling. Your veins are only big enough in diameter to contain the amount of blood that needs to flow through them. When blood starts pooling, the veins stretch out to accommodate the extra blood, causing spider or varicose veins. If the blood pools get too big and the pressure too much for the vein, an ulcer can develop. The amount of blood that oozes out of the vein may range from minimal to heavy.
The two main reasons that ulcers form are damaged valves and obstruction.
Damaged or weak vein valves cannot keep up with all of the blood that needs to pump from your feet back up to your heart. Like a poorly screwed-on sports bottle cap that leaks water all over the bottom of your purse, they let blood seep back down toward your feet. The pooling blood increases the pressure in the vein, causing varicose veins and possibly venous ulcers.
Obstructions in the vein can also cause an increase in venous pressure. What happens when something clogs up the pipes that lead away from your toilet bowl? An overflowing toilet. If all of the water can’t get around what’s obstructing the pipes, it has nowhere to go but back the way it came. Unlike water flowing out of the toilet, your blood has nowhere to go when it gets backed up, forcing the vein to expand, swell, and eventually form an ulcer.
These are two good reasons to strengthen your veins and arteries with good lifestyle care!
Where Venous Ulcers are Usually Located
Because these ulcers are the result of venous reflux, they usually occur in the legs. More often than not, you’ll find a venous ulcer on the inside of your leg just above your ankle. If you have an ulcer on your foot, then it’s probably a diabetic leg ulcer or an arterial leg ulcer rather than a venous ulcer. Since the underlying cause of the ulcer will influence your treatment, it’s best to visit your physician or vein specialist to determine what kind of ulcer you’re dealing with.
Do please call us now if you’re worried about what you know to be an ulcer. Otherwise read on to help you decide.
What Venous Ulcers Look Like
The appearance of these ulcers depends on what stage of development the ulcer is in. Because they start out as red, inflamed skin, they’re often ignored or misdiagnosed.
The ulcer may be more noticeable – and diagnosable – as it begins to leak fluid and look like a severe bruise, or become reddened, dry, or cracked. As the ulcer worsens, the skin around it will start to die. The wound will begin to look inflamed and deeper than before. At this point, the venous ulcer may start to heal and then reopen again.
A clearly visible open sore is apparent in the final stage of development. The wound may not heal on its own and needs to be kept extremely clean.
Pain and Venous Ulcers
The ulcers themselves can be itchy and painful. They can also cause uncomfortable symptoms in nearby areas like
- swollen ankles,
- hardened skin around the ulcer, which may make your leg feel hard,
- red, flaky, scaly, and itchy skin on your legs,
- a heavy feeling in your legs,
- aching or swelling in your legs, and
- swollen and enlarged veins on your legs.
Some of these uncomfortable or painful symptoms can be relieved by elevating your ankles above your heart or wearing compression socks. In addition, irritation to the skin can be managed with salves and other medications used to treat eczema.
Healing Vein Ulcers
By definition, venous ulcers are chronic. That’s because a venous ulcer takes longer than two weeks to heal if it heals at all. Even after healing, it’s likely to return over and over again. However, treating the root cause of venous ulcers and vein disease can help prevent venous ulcers from developing in the future.
Venous Ulcers Can Lead to Infection and Death.
Unfortunately, venous ulcers are highly susceptible to infection because of their location and the fact that they’re open wounds that usually can’t heal themselves. And an infection can lead to many other problematic conditions, including death.
Symptoms of an infected venous ulcer can include:
- Green or unpleasant discharge
- Worsening pain
- An unpleasant smell coming from the ulcer
If you think that your venous ulcer may be infected, seek medical attention immediately.
Venous Ulcers and Amputation
Although rare, if your venous ulcer becomes severely infected, the infection can spread to other tissues like skin and bone. If the infection takes over those tissues, then they could become sick enough that they need to be amputated. However, simply taking good care of venous ulcers and following your doctor’s or vein specialist’s recommendations can alleviate any concern about amputation.
Who Treats These Ulcers?
The best place to go for venous ulcer treatment is to a clinic that specializes in vein treatments. Vein specialists and vascular surgeons can diagnose venous ulcers and treat any underlying venous insufficiencies to help prevent and manage venous ulcer formation and recurrence.
In addition, a wound specialist will assist you in treating and caring for the ulcer itself to keep infection at bay.
We can help!
We know veins! For over 15 years, our board-certified surgeon and specialized staff at Denver Vein Center have been committed to your care! Contact us for a consultation today!