Leg ulcers pose a serious threat to your health. These wounds don’t heal on their own. Even with treatment, they can last for nine months or longer. And they get progressively worse, putting you at risk for skin and bone infections.
Vascular disease is the cause of leg ulcers, but they can also arise from uncontrolled diabetes.
At Memphis Vein Center, board-certified cardiologist Kishore Arcot, MD, provides exceptional treatments for vascular problems, but he can also help you prevent dangerous leg ulcers by screening for early signs of vascular disease and creating a preventive care plan.
Here’s everything you need to know about the causes and symptoms of leg ulcers. Once you know the early warning signs, you can seek treatment before an ulcer develops.
How venous ulcers develop
Leg ulcers caused by a vein problem (called venous stasis ulcers), begin when valves inside your leg veins weaken and stop working. These valves normally keep blood flowing in one direction: up your legs and toward your heart.
When the valves weaken, some blood flows back down your leg, causing a condition called venous insufficiency. As the refluxing blood accumulates, the vein enlarges and the blood pressure in your lower leg rises.
High venous pressure forces fluids out of the veins. Then the fluids break down the skin and surrounding tissues, causing an ulcer. Venous ulcers usually appear around your ankle, but they can affect any part of your lower leg.
Signs of vein disease
Venous insufficiency causes other conditions and symptoms before you develop an ulcer:
Varicose veins appear as the accumulating blood causes large, twisted, bulging, dark-blue, veins. Unsightly leg veins are often the first sign you have venous insufficiency.
You may experience pain, swelling, or itching in the affected leg. Sometimes your leg may feel heavy or you could have muscle cramps or restless legs.
If one or more of the following skin conditions appear in your lower leg, consider them red flags that you have advanced venous insufficiency:
- Stasis dermatitis, an inflammatory condition that causes red, itchy, and scaling skin
- Hyperpigmentation, in which your skin turns reddish-brown as red blood cells break down
- Lipodermatosclerosis, in which your skin becomes thickened, hard, red, and swollen
These symptoms suggest it won’t be long before an ulcer develops, but you can still prevent an ulcer by getting treatment.
How arterial ulcers develop
Arterial ulcers are a complication of advanced peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD occurs when cholesterol accumulates in the artery wall. This condition, called atherosclerosis, gets worse over time. As the fatty plaque enlarges, it interferes with blood flow.
Without treatment, the plaque gets large enough to significantly block circulation through the artery. Without enough blood, skin and other tissues don’t get oxygen and they start to break down. That’s when an arterial leg ulcer develops.
Signs of artery disease
PAD causes leg symptoms such as:
- Leg pain, aching, or cramping when walking that improves at rest
- Pale, discolored skin
- Leg weakness or numbness
- Tingling in your lower leg
- Poor hair growth on one leg
- Shiny skin on one leg
Leg pain that sticks around even when you’re resting is a sign that you have advanced PAD.
How diabetes causes ulcers
Diabetes typically causes ulcers on your foot. But diabetes also increases your risk of developing atherosclerosis, so you may end up with a leg ulcer, too.
High blood sugar damages small blood vessels and nerves. Nerve damage causes numbness, so you don’t notice small cuts, scrapes, and pressure sores on your foot. Then diminished blood flow hinders healing, turning a minor cut into a nonhealing ulcer.
The best way to prevent a diabetic ulcer is to check your feet every day, looking for signs of a cut or abrasion. If you notice a problem, get medical care right away to ensure the wound heals.
If you have questions about leg ulcers or symptoms you may have, contact us today at our Memphis, Tennessee, office.