Between 1-3% of people age 65 and older have a venous leg ulcer. A venous leg ulcer is a wound on your leg, often caused by a small injury that you may not have even noticed when it happened. But the wound doesn’t heal as it should.
Our physicians at Maryland Cardiology Associates in Greenbelt, Maryland, have many patients who have problems with their legs, and often those patients don’t realize that leg pain or a wound on their feet or legs can be related to circulatory problems such as chronic venous insufficiency, peripheral vascular disease, or peripheral artery disease.
Why chronic leg ulcers happen
Your veins return your blood to your heart and lungs so it can be oxygenated. But your veins aren’t just tubes. They have valves located throughout to prevent your blood from falling back down between your heartbeats. Sometimes the valves malfunction and leak, allowing blood to pool. This is called peripheral vascular disease.
Your arteries take blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your blood nourishes all of your cells and tissues, and if your arteries are blocked by plaque and the blood can’t flow through as it should, you can have problems. This is called peripheral artery disease.
These two circulatory problems, among others, can lead to chronic leg ulcers. For any small cut or wound to heal, your tissues need blood flow. Without a sufficient flow of blood to your extremities from your heart, wounds can’t heal properly.
Symptoms of a venous leg ulcer
You may be wondering how you can tell the difference between a regular sore and a leg ulcer. A leg ulcer usually has swelling, and the skin around the wound is red and itchy.
Your calves may feel tight and achy, or your legs might feel heavy in general. You likely have splotches of discolored skin as well from the blood pooling around the leaky valves in your veins.
How leg ulcers are treated
The treatment that works for you depends on a host of factors. Your overall health and any other chronic conditions you have impact what the most appropriate treatment will be, as does the severity of your ulcer, your age, and any other symptoms you may be having.
A very common treatment approach includes wearing compression stockings, often prescription strength. Compression stockings improve the flow of blood in your ankles and legs. They also help reduce swelling. You will likely need to elevate your legs whenever you can to further help reduce swelling. And you shouldn’t cross your legs when you’re seated.
Regular exercise can also help improve your blood flow. In some cases, we may prescribe a diuretic to help flush extra fluid out, an anticoagulant to thin your blood, or other medications. In certain situations, surgery is the best treatment.
If you have a sore, cut, or wound on your lower leg or ankle that just won’t heal, schedule an appointment at Maryland Cardiology Associates so we can assess whether or not you have a chronic venous leg ulcer. Call our office or book a visit online today.