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Leg Ulcers: A Lesser-Known Symptom of Heart Disease

Leg Ulcers: A Lesser-Known Symptom of Heart Disease

leg ulcer may not seem like it’s related to your heart, but the two are closely associated by vascular disease. They also share another connection: You should never wait to seek care for either condition because they can both lead to life-threatening complications.

Whether you face one or both concerns, you get the personalized care you need from Kishore Arcot, MD, FACC, at Memphis Vein Center. As a specialist in cardiology and vascular problems, he offers skilled treatment for leg ulcers and cardiovascular conditions.

Let’s look at the causes of leg ulcers and how they’re related to heart disease.

About leg ulcers

Leg ulcers are open sores that develop on the surface of your skin when tissue dies. These wounds appear when you have a condition that disrupts circulation through your arteries or veins.

Though leg ulcers usually develop in your lower legs, especially around your ankles, the same type of wound also affects your feet. Whether on your lower legs or feet, ulcers are extremely dangerous.

Once a leg ulcer develops, it won’t heal on its own. Without advanced wound care, the ulcer keeps expanding. Then you’re at risk of developing dangerous skin and bone infections.

How you get a leg ulcer

The top three causes of leg and foot ulcers are peripheral artery disease, diabetes, and chronic venous insufficiency:

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) begins when cholesterol and other fats become attached to a rough, damaged area in the artery wall. As fats keep accumulating, the plaque gets progressively larger, and inflammation develops. This condition is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque interrupts blood flowing through the artery. Without treatment, the plaque gets large enough to significantly block circulation. As a result, tissues in your leg don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. The loss of oxygen causes tissue death, and an arterial ulcer develops.

The most advanced stage of PAD, called critical limb ischemia, occurs when severe blockage leads to extensive tissue death and gangrene. Without immediate care, critical limb ischemia can lead to amputation.


Diabetes causes high blood sugar, and excessive sugar damages your blood vessels. This damage leads to the same problem as PAD: loss of oxygen, tissue death, and nonhealing diabetic ulcers.

Though diabetes is known for foot ulcers, the disease can also cause lower leg ulcers. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputations.

Chronic venous insufficiency

Chronic venous insufficiency develops when one-way valves in your leg veins stop working. As a result, blood flows back down your leg instead of going up your leg and toward your heart. The refluxing blood accumulates in the vein, increasing the venous pressure in your lower leg.

High blood pressure in your lower leg vein forces fluids out of the vein. The infiltrating fluids cause inflammatory skin rashes, discolored and thickened skin, and ulcers called venous stasis ulcers. These ulcers most often appear around your ankles but they can affect any part of your lower leg.

Of the three causes of leg ulcers, venous insufficiency is the least likely to signal a heart problem. But the condition causes varicose veins and puts you at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.

Connections between leg ulcers and your heart

Having a leg ulcer doesn’t necessarily mean you have heart disease. But a leg ulcer is definitely a sign that you have problems known to cause heart disease. As a result, you may be well on the way to developing a heart condition.

If you have atherosclerosis in a leg artery, there’s a good chance you have fatty plaque in other arteries. The same health conditions that lead to PAD in your legs have an equal chance of affecting any artery throughout your body.

Diabetic ulcers are also cause for concern. Diabetes is associated with a twofold to fourfold increase in your risk for PAD. Additionally, diabetes speeds up the rate at which plaque enlarges.

Even without PAD, diabetes narrows your arteries and significantly increases your chances of developing heart disease.

Finally, people with PAD and diabetes often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Just one of these conditions makes you more likely to develop heart disease. Having two or more raises the risk. 

Don’t wait to seek help for a leg or foot ulcer. Call us at Memphis Vein Center in Memphis, Tennessee, or book an appointment online today.

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