Venous ulcers are wounds or sores on the skin of the lower leg, usually near the ankle, that will not heal or are reoccurring. They are thought to be caused by venous insufficiency, which is the inadequate functioning of the venous valves. Obesity, smoking, lack of physical activity and prolonged sitting or standing (such as at work) can contribute to venous insufficiency. Basically, blocked veins cause blood to pool and lead to these kinds of ulcers.
Venous ulcers account for anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of all leg ulcer occurrences. One of the contributors, deep vein thrombosis, is a blood clot in the vein and can be very dangerous.
Besides adequate exercise, maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking, there are a few other options to help prevent venous insufficiency and the risk of venous ulcers. The key is improving blood circulation. This can be done by lying down and propping your legs up with a pillow, which lifts your legs above the level of your heart. Compression socks, which can be purchased over the counter, are another option. And, of course, walking daily improves one’s circulation as well.
A few other preventative methods include staying hydrated, taking omega 3 supplements, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. Foot massages may also help circulation.
If venous ulcers are caught early, compression therapy may be prescribed. Wrapping the leg from the foot to below the knees can improve circulation, but the type of compression treatment used should be prescribed by a physician.
If the ulcers keep coming back or worsen, there are other options for treatment. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed if an ulcer becomes infected. Anti –clotting medications may be prescribed in order to prevent a blood clot. Your physician may remove the infected tissue from the ulcer, which is called debridement. After debriding the ulcer, topical medications may be applied to prevent infection.
Skin grafting, which is the transplantation of healthy skin to cover the wound, is an option for deep or difficult-to-heal ulcers. Another option is artificial skin—a mix of collagen and cultured skin cells—which can be placed over the ulcer to help it heal.
A more proactive option is vein surgery. A minimally invasive method that does not involve an operating room setting but rather state-of-the-art technology to repair the veins may be the most viable option for chronic cases.
It is important to get venous ulcers diagnosed and treated as soon as you suspect one has formed. Without proper treatment, an infected ulcer can lead to gangrene and, eventually, the amputation of part of the limb. This gives all the more reason to be proactive and get the best treatment possible.