Leg ulcer, venous

Introduction

A leg ulcer is an area of damaged skin below the knee on your leg or foot that takes longer than six weeks to heal.

Symptoms of a leg ulcer include pain, itching and swelling in the affected leg.

Types of leg ulcer

The most common type of leg ulcer is a venous leg ulcer, accounting for 80-85% of all cases. Venous leg ulcers occur when persistently high blood pressure (hypertension) damages the veins in the legs.

Other types of leg ulcer include:

  • arterial leg ulcers, which are caused by poor blood circulation in the arteries
  • diabetic leg ulcers, which are caused by the high blood sugar associated with diabetes

How common are venous leg ulcers?

Venous leg ulcers are uncommon in the general population, affecting an estimated 1 person in 500 in the UK.

However, rates of venous leg ulcers rise sharply with age. It is estimated that 1 person in every 50 over the age of 80 is affected by venous leg ulcers.

The two biggest risk factors for venous leg ulcers are:

  • immobility (being unable to move properly)
  • obesity

Outlook

The outlook for small ulcers is generally good. With appropriate treatment, 70% of small ulcers will heal within 12 weeks. Larger ulcers may take longer to heal. Treatment usually involves cleaning and dressing the wound and using compression bandages to control the blood pressure inside the legs better.

However, unless underlying risk factors such as immobility are addressed, there is a high risk of a venous leg ulcer reoccurring.

A common complication of a venous leg ulcer is infection, which requires additional treatment with antibiotics.


 

Glossary

Ulcer
An ulcer is a sore break in the skin or on the inside lining of the body.
Tissue
Body tissue is made up of groups of cells that perform a specific job, such as protecting the body against infection, producing movement or storing fat.
Chronic
Chronic usually means a condition that continues for a long time or keeps coming back.
Blood
Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
Veins
Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the rest of the body back to the heart.
Last updated: 04 October 2011

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