Venous Leg Ulcer

Arteries carry oxygenated blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Veins return the blood to the heart.

When you sit or stand, blood in the veins in your legs must flow “uphill” to your heart. When you move your legs while walking, the contraction of your leg muscles has a pumping effect on the blood in the veins. The veins have one-way valves that stop the blood from flowing backward.

If you have poor blood flow in your veins (venous insufficiency), the one-way valves are damaged. The blood doesn’t flow uphill very well. This raises pressure in the veins, and the tissues in your legs don’t get enough oxygen. As the problem gets worse, an area of skin near the ankle turns dark and an ulcer forms. This is called a venous stasis ulcer. These ulcers usually don’t hurt unless they become infected.

Venous stasis ulcers are treated with compression wraps, antibiotics that you put on your skin, and special dressings. Sometimes you may need a skin graft. Once the ulcer has healed, you will need to use compression stocking to help the pumping action in your veins. The stockings will also reduce swelling.

Home care

Follow these tips when caring for yourself at home:

  • Use any special compression dressings or stockings as directed.

  • If you were told to change your dressing, follow the instructions your healthcare provider gave you. Many different kinds of dressings can be used for this problem, and each is used differently.

  • Walk regularly. This helps the blood flow better in your legs.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk with your provider about a weight loss program.

  • If you smoke, quit smoking. This will ease your symptoms and lower the chance that the disease will get worse. Join a stop-smoking program or ask your provider for help in quitting.

  • Check your feet and legs for skin breaks or color changes. Report these to your provider. This could be an early sign of an ulcer.

  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes and socks. Don’t use socks that are tight. If they leave a dent in your leg by the end of the day, they are too tight.

  • When standing, shift your weight from one leg to the other.

  • When sitting for long periods, put your feet up. Move your feet and ankles often to get your calf muscles moving. Get up and walk from time to time.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of the following occur:

  • Shortness of breath or painful breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Coughing up blood

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pus or discharge coming from the ulcer

  • Pain in or around the ulcer

  • Redness or swelling of your leg around the ulcer

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Repeated cough

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