It often begins with a discolored spot on the skin near the ankle. Or maybe a minor injury breaks the skin. In most people, the bruising or broken skin heals up within a week or two. However, when there’s an underlying vein problem, the wound doesn’t heal and may increase in size, or reappears after a short period of time. That’s when chronic leg ulcers develop.
Venous leg ulcers are painful, raw, shallow wounds that can develop over time from long-term buildup of fluid in the tissues. For most people, they require wound clinic treatments and compression socks, along with prescription medications to ease the pain. The most common underlying problem causing chronic leg ulcers is disease of the leg veins. In fact, venous leg ulcers are the most common type of leg ulcers, accounting for over 90% of all cases.
Why Leg Ulcers Appear
The veins in your leg are tubes that carry the blood back from your foot to your heart. They have one-way valves that make sure the blood flows up the leg and not back down. If the valves are damaged, blood can flow backward and pool resulting in a very high pressure in the vein. The constant high pressure against the valves makes them weak and unable to effectively transport blood back to the heart. That’s what leads to leg ulcers.
The term we use to describe this condition is chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). The most common cause is high blood pressure in the leg veins (varicose veins), but other factors could put you at increased risk, including:
- Phlebitis (inflammation of varicose veins)
- A job that requires standing and/or sitting for long periods
- Deep vein thrombosis or blood clots in the veins of the legs
- Family history of varicose veins or blood clots
- Trauma, injury or surgery to the legs
Signs to Look for
CVI can be life-threatening if not treated and can lead to more serious conditions such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. Most patients have no symptoms of CVI, so if you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a vein specialist right away:
- Leg or ankle swelling
- Pain while exercising or walking that subsides when you rest
- Tight sensation in the legs or a feeling of itching in the legs
- Discolored or brown skin near the ankles
- Varicose veins or spider veins
- Leg cramps and muscle spasms that are painful
- Restless leg syndrome or an irresistible sensation to move the legs
- Ulcers on the legs that are difficult to treat and slow to heal
You can decrease your risk of CVI by eating healthy (avoiding foods high in sugar and carbohydrates), maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, avoiding sitting and standing for long periods of time and avoiding smoking.
How to Stop the Sores from Coming Back
After a leg ulcer has developed, treatment to heal the sore can take several weeks. But once your leg ulcer is healed, it doesn’t mean your problems are over. The only effective way to prevent future leg ulcers is to treat the cause. If that underlying cause is varicose veins, there is hope. There are many non-invasive treatments available today for varicose veins – and they’re covered by most insurance companies. Click here to view the before and after gallery. You can find leg ulcer images in the “Severe Case Gallery.”
Long gone are the surgically intense vein-stripping procedures. Today, varicose veins are effectively treated using Endovenous Laser Ablation (EVLA) or sclerotherapy. EVLA is an advanced technique that uses a laser to dissolve problem veins, and Dr. Gilvydis is among the most experienced EVLA physician in the Midwest. Sclerotherapy uses a series of small injections to close bad veins, including smaller varicose veins and spider veins. Both are non-invasive, allowing most patients to return to normal activities the same or next day.
Are you ready to put an end to wound care clinic visits, compression socks and pain medication? If you have leg ulcers due to varicose veins or CVI, we can help. Contact Gilvydis Vein Clinic to schedule a consultation.