A venous ulcer is a sore on your leg that heals very slowly, often due to weak blood circulation in the leg. They can last anywhere from a few weeks to years.
Venous ulcers occur when there’s a break in the skin on your leg, often around the ankle. The veins in the leg, which should send blood back to the heart, instead allow backflow.
This backflow of blood can mean swelling and increased pressure in the leg. When that happens, it can weaken the skin and make it harder for a cut or scrape to heal.
Do I Have a Venous Ulcer?
About 1% to 3% of Americans have venous ulcers. They’re more common in older people, especially women.
Symptoms may include:
- Itching or burning skin
- Swollen area around the sore
- A rash or dry skin
- Brownish discoloration
- A foul-smelling fluid oozing from the sore
An ulcer is vulnerable to infection. If it becomes infected, you may experience:
- A fever
- Worsening pain
- A redness or swelling of the surrounding skin
Risk factors include:
- Varicose veins
- Have previous leg injuries
- Have had blood clots or phlebitis
If you have a wound that isn’t healing or you think is infected, you should have a consultation. A quick examination is usually enough to determine if it is a venous ulcer. Your doctor will ask you if you have a history of ongoing (or “chronic”) conditions, such as diabetes or hardening of the arteries. In some cases, however, your doctor might order other tests, such as an X-ray or a CT scan, to check out your veins and the area around the ulcer in more detail.
Sometimes, an ulcer can lead to other problems, including serious skin and bone infections. In rare cases, it can give rise to skin cancer.
The most common treatment is compression therapy. The pressure from a compression sock should improve the blood flow in your leg, helping you heal the sore.
Elevating your leg will also help improve your recovery speed.
If the ulcer is infected by bacteria, you may need antibiotics to kill the infection.
In extreme cases, you may benefit from surgery to improve the blood flow in your legs. This can help your ulcer heal and could help prevent similar issues in the future.
Most ulcers heal after 3 or 4 months of treatment. However, some can take longer, and some may never clear up.