Venous leg ulcers are a common issue for older people, and if you have them, you may be concerned or distressed. At Center for Advanced Vein Care, we can understand how the development of venous leg ulcers may cause you to panic, but rest assured that with prompt and efficient vein treatment, you can get back to living your normal life as quickly as possible. In this blog, we will go over information about venous leg ulcers so you can be fully informed about this condition.
What is a Venous Leg Ulcer?
Leg ulcers are the most common kind of skin ulcer which are usually found directly above the ankle. A skin ulcer refers to when one part of the skin breaks down, revealing flesh underneath. They are most common in women and the elderly. While the majority of leg ulcers are painless, some people do experience pain with their ulcers. Without proper treatment, these leg ulcers begin to spread, and can cause a variety of issues if left untreated. It is also possible to develop non-venous leg ulcers, which are more commonly caused by poor circulation. At Center for Advanced Vein Care, our vein specialist Dr. Sonja Stiller specializes in treating venous leg ulcers. Non-venous leg ulcers require a different type of treatment, so this blog will focus on venous leg ulcers, which we can treat at our facility.
The Causes of Venous Leg Ulcers
Venous leg ulcers are caused by an elevation in blood pressure in the leg, which pushes fluid out of the veins and causes it to pool underneath the surface of the skin. Over time, the skin is damaged as it thickens and swells. With time, the damaged skin breaks down, forming an ulcer. This elevation in blood pressure originates from blood collecting in surface veins. This blood tends to collect because of damage in the larger veins’ valves, often from a recent blood clot or varicose veins. Because of gravity, blood will flow to the damaged valves again and pool in the lower veins.
Diagnosing Venous Leg Ulcers
The appearance of venous leg ulcers is generally obvious. The appearance of venous leg ulcers is different than non-venous ulcers in general. Typically, to rule out poor circulation as the issue, your doctor will check your blood pressure at the ankle and the arm. By dividing the ankle blood pressure by the arm blood pressure, your doctor can calculate your Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI). A low ratio suggests poor circulation as a cause, rather than an issue with the veins. Your doctor may also perform other tests to assess whether or not you have another condition, such as diabetes or arthritis, that can cause skin ulcers. If your case is more complex, you may also need an MRI or CT scan.
Treating Venous Leg Ulcers
If your doctor determines that your leg ulcer is caused by vein problems, treatment for venous leg ulcers will commence. A nurse will dress your ulcer as any normal wound, though this is not sufficient to fully heal a venous leg ulcer. Your doctor will also prescribe a compression bandage for you, which will be an integral part of your vein treatment. After dressing the wound, your nurse will apply two to four layers of compression bandages over the ulcer. The pressure is highest at the ankle, and lessens as it goes up the leg. A compression stocking may also be used, but a bandage will more effectively cover the area.
Every week or so, you will need to come back into our vein clinic to have your bandages reapplied. Before you come in, it is best to keep your leg elevated for several hours. Within the compression bandage, you should be able to easily move your ankle; if you can’t, or are experiencing pain, it’s important to talk to your vein specialist.
In addition to dressing and applying compression bandages, it is important to incorporate a routine of elevating your leg at rest, and adding more activity into your day-to-day life. For 30 minutes four times a day, elevate your leg above your heart, particularly if your leg is swollen, and sleep with your leg elevated if possible. Additionally, don’t simply rest all the time; it is also important that you remain active. Participate in activities as you normally would, and then try to add regular walks. Do not stand for long periods of time.
Most venous leg ulcers heal within 12 weeks with proper treatment. In certain cases, if an ulcer does not heal, your doctor may recommend a skin graft. You may also need to have vein surgery after your ulcer has healed if it was caused by a vein condition such as varicose veins.
Whether you have leg ulcers or another problem with your vein health, contact the Center for Advanced Vein Care in Mentor, OH today. As vein specialists, we are proud to provide compassionate and comprehensive care to our patients. If you need vein treatment in Ohio, schedule a free screening with our clinic today.