How Are Leg Ulcers Treated?
Venous leg ulcers are open wounds or unhealed sores that can develop on your leg. Without treatment, these painful sores can be slow to heal or come back after they have healed. Fortunately, vein doctors can provide treatment for leg ulcers.
Leg ulcers may be the result of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) or lymphedema, a condition that can cause your leg to swell up. Lymphedema is a disease of the lymphatic system and CVI is a disease of the circulatory system. Each condition can cause progressive swelling of the leg, inflammation, and changes to the skin there.
There is no cure for lymphedema, but doctors can prescribe daily home treatments that control symptoms and complications. Untreated CVI can result in progressive skin changes and difficult-to-control leg ulcers.
Vein doctors provide safe and effective treatment for leg ulcers.
The lymphatic system and blood circulatory, or venous, systems work together to maintain fluid balance in your body. In the venous system, arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your body cells use that oxygen and those nutrients to perform various functions and, in the process, generate waste that goes back into the blood. Your veins then carry that blood back up to your heart.
The lymphatic system takes care of molecules that are too large for your blood circulatory system. The lymphatic system maintains fluid balance by clearing excess water, large molecules, and debris from cells. In fact, the lymphatic system works like the body’s drainage and filter system.
Chronic swelling can occur when your venous system or lymphatic system do not work well. Restricted blood flow associated with CVI causes blood and fluid to leak into the surrounding tissue. Skin can break down and an ulcer can develop.
Leg Ulcers and Lymphedema
Diabetes is an important cause of leg ulcers. About 15 percent of people with diabetes develop leg ulcers known as diabetic foot ulcers, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). Of those who develop a foot ulcer, 6 percent will have to stay in the hospital for infection or other complications associated with the leg ulcer.
Lymphedema is the abnormal buildup of high-protein fluid in soft body tissues, including the soft tissues of your legs. Lymphedema can cause leg ulcers.
There are a number of lymphedema causes, such as certain types of cancer and treatments for cancer. Removal of the lymph nodes, which work as filters to kill harmful germs and other substances, can trigger the development of lymphedema. Lymphedema may develop as the result of damage to the lymph vessels, which are the structures that carry white blood cells and lymph fluid to and from lymph nodes, or when lymph vessels are missing as the result of a hereditary condition. Infections, injury, the presence of scar tissue from surgery, or radiation treatments may also cause lymphedema.
Treatment of leg ulcers includes preventing infection, applying medications to the ulcer, and managing blood sugar or other underlying health problems associated with leg ulcers. Taking the pressure off the area, a procedure known as “offloading,” prevents inflamed tissue from causing or worsening leg ulcers. Doctors may remove dead skin and tissue in a procedure known as debridement.
Treatment focuses on preventing infection. To keep a leg ulcer from becoming infected, it is important to keep your blood sugar under control, clean the wound daily, keep the leg ulcer clean and bandaged, and to avoid walking barefoot. If an infection does develop, the doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics to control that infection.
Leg ulcer treatment may also involve varicose vein treatment to prevent these damaged veins from leaking fluids and toxic waste products into surrounding tissue.