Skip to Content
View Additional Content In This Section
ulcer is a type of wound that develops on the skin. A
venous skin ulcer is a shallow wound that occurs when
the leg veins don't return blood back toward the heart the way they should. This is called venous insufficiency. See a picture
of abnormal blood flow caused by venous insufficiency.
usually form on the sides of the lower leg, above the ankle and below the
calf. See a picture of
areas affected by venous skin ulcers.
Venous skin ulcers are slow
to heal and often come back if you don't take steps to prevent them.
A venous skin ulcer is also called a stasis leg ulcer.
Venous skin ulcers are caused by poor
blood circulation from the legs, such as from venous insufficiency. Your veins have
one-way valves that keep blood flowing toward the heart. In venous
insufficiency, the valves are damaged, and blood backs up and pools in the
vein. Fluid may leak out of the vein and into the surrounding tissue. This
can lead to a breakdown of the tissue and an ulcer.
Veins that become blocked also may cause fluid to pool, leading to
Some things can increase your risk of venous skin ulcers. These include:
There are two other types of skin ulcers that can happen on the lower leg or feet. They are different from venous skin ulcers.
The first sign of a venous
skin ulcer is skin that turns dark red or purple over the area where the blood
is leaking out of the vein. The skin also may become thick, dry, and
Without treatment, an ulcer may form. The ulcer may be
painful. You also may have swollen and achy legs.
If the wound
becomes infected, the infection may cause an odor, and pus may drain from the
wound. The area around the wound also may be more tender and red.
Call your doctor when you first notice the signs
of a venous skin ulcer, because you may be able to prevent the ulcer from
forming. If an ulcer has formed, get treatment right away, because new and
smaller ulcers tend to heal faster than larger ones.
will diagnose venous skin ulcers by asking questions about your health and
looking at your legs. Your doctor may also use
duplex Doppler ultrasound to find out what is causing the ulcer. This test shows how well
blood is moving through the lower leg.
Your doctor may use other
tests to check for problems related to venous skin ulcers or to recheck the
ulcer if it does not heal within a few weeks after the start of treatment.
The first step involves improving blood circulation. To do this, you can:
To help your ulcer heal, your doctor may also remove dead tissue from the wound (debridement).
ulcer has healed, continue to wear compression stockings. Take them off only
when you bathe and sleep. Compression therapy helps your blood circulate and
helps prevent other ulcers from forming.
If your ulcer doesn't heal within a few months, your doctor may advise other treatment, such as:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about venous skin ulcers:
Treatment at home:
Other Works Consulted
Burkhart CN, et al. (2012). Cutaneous changes in peripheral venous and lymphatic insufficiency. In LA Goldman et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2110–2120. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Habif TP (2010). Eczema and hand dermatitis. In Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 91–129. Edinburgh: Mosby.
Katz DL, Friedman RSC (2008). Diet and wound healing. In Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2nd ed., pp. 271–274. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Nelson EA (2011). Venous leg ulcers, search date June 2011. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
Raju S, Neglen P (2009). Chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(22): 2319–2327.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerMargaret Doucette, DO - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wound Care, Hyperbaric Medicine
Current as ofAugust 21, 2015
Current as of:
August 21, 2015
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Margaret Doucette, DO - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wound Care, Hyperbaric Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.