Leg ulcers are incredibly dangerous because they won’t heal without medical care. Instead of healing, they keep getting larger, putting you at risk for serious complications.
As a specialist in vascular medicine, Kishore K. Arcot, MD, FACC, at Memphis Vein Center protects your health, providing the advanced treatments needed to repair the underlying condition and promote wound healing.
Why leg ulcers develop
A leg ulcer is an open wound that develops when a disease affects circulation in the blood vessels serving your legs. The top three causes include:
Peripheral artery disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) develops when cholesterol blocks a leg artery. As the plaque enlarges and limits blood flow, tissues die because they don’t get enough oxygen. That’s when an arterial leg ulcer develops.
Chronic venous insufficiency
When the valves inside your leg veins stop working, blood flows back down the leg and pools in the vein. This condition, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), also raises blood pressure in the lower leg vein.
High venous pressure forces fluids out of the vein, where they break down your skin and cause a venous leg ulcer.
High blood sugar damages the small blood vessels in your feet and legs. As a result, a tiny sore can quickly turn into an ulcer because it lacks the blood supply and oxygen needed to heal. Diabetic ulcers often occur on your feet, but they may also appear on your lower legs.
Signs warning you’re at risk for a leg ulcer
Blood vessel damage from diabetes doesn’t cause signs until an ulcer appears. But if you’re diabetic, you can watch your feet for small cuts and bruises and seek professional care to prevent a larger wound.
PAD and CVI often cause symptoms before a leg ulcer develops. Varicose veins signal the presence of CVI, while leg pain when walking (that improves with rest) is one of the earliest signs of PAD.
Both PAD and CVI may cause:
- Leg pain and cramping
- Leg fatigue
- Burning sensations
- Red skin
- Skin rashes
- Discolored and/or thickened skin
Seeking treatment at the first sign of vascular disease gives you the chance to prevent leg ulcers.
Complications caused by leg ulcers
No matter the cause, all leg ulcers pose two major health challenges: They don’t heal on their own and they keep getting larger.
The skin around venous ulcers breaks down, creating a wound that’s shallow but continuously enlarges. Arterial and diabetic ulcers tend to infiltrate below the surface, creating a deep wound.
Healing a leg ulcer requires intensive wound care and treatment for the underlying disease. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the higher your risk of developing serious complications, including:
Skin and bone infections
A wound that won’t heal is an open door to bacteria, viruses, and other dangerous microorganisms. Arterial and diabetic ulcers are especially vulnerable to infections because the lack of blood means they can’t heal or fight off the invading pathogens.
Signs of an infection include:
- Foul odor
- Thick, yellowish drainage
- Swelling and redness
- Dark color around or in the wound
- Redness or red streaks spreading out from the wound
- Fever and fatigue
- Muscle aches
Without prompt treatment, these infections may spread into your bloodstream and cause sepsis, a massive, bodywide response that can threaten your life.
When blood flow is significantly reduced or stopped, the tissues die and gangrene develops. Signs of gangrene include:
- Changes in skin color (usually black but could be gray, blue, purple, or red)
- Severe pain at first followed by numbness
- Foul-smelling discharge
You need immediate treatment for gangrene. Surgical debridement to remove the dead and infected tissue and vascular procedures to restore blood flow may save your foot and lower leg. Unfortunately, amputation may be the only option when gangrene causes extensive tissue death.
Amputation statistics are shocking and tell you all you need to know about why you should never neglect a foot ulcer:
- 54% of all surgical amputations are due to vascular disease
- 14%-25% of all people with a foot ulcer will need an amputation
- 22% of people with Type 2 diabetes and a foot ulcer will need an amputation
- 20% of people with severe PAD will undergo amputation
Don’t wait to seek treatment for a foot or leg wound that won’t heal. Call us at Memphis Vein Center in Memphis, Tennessee, right away, or connect online to request an appointment for expert leg ulcer care.