For individuals suffering from leg ulcers, pain can be severe.  Many wonder whether these sores will heal on their own.  In fact, without the right treatment, complications can develop, and ulcers could recur.  Understanding why these ulcers form and the options available to treat them helps reduce a patient’s stress.

Leg Ulcer Overview

The Cleveland Clinic describes a leg ulcer as a wound or an open sore that does not heal or that repeatedly returns.  Not all ulcers on the leg are painful.  Most patients experience leg swelling.  Some complain of itching or burning sensations.  Other signs include redness, a rash, a brownish discoloration, and skin that is dry and scaly.

A number of medical conditions are potential causes.  Among them are poor circulation and clotting issues, sometimes linked to arteriosclerosis, and venous insufficiency.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that venous diseases cause around 70 percent of limb ulcers. 

Other causes include:

  • Lymphedema
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney failure
  • Inflammatory illnesses such as lupus and other rheumatological disorders
  • Hypertension
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Smoking, past or present
  • Family history
  • Malignancy
  • Infections
  • Staying too long in the same position
  • Some medications
  • A variety of other medical issues such as heart disease and bowel disorders

Lymphedema Causes

Vein doctors recognize lymphedema as a significant cause of limb ulcers.  It is a swelling that typically appears in the legs or the arms and sometimes both at the same time.  It can also develop in the head, neck, genitals, or breast.

There is no cure for lymphedema, according to the Mayo Clinic.  However early diagnosis and diligent care are important in managing it and avoiding complications such as ulcers.  A typical treatment plan includes light exercise, limb wrapping, massage, and wearing pneumatic or compression garments.  Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove excess tissue.

The most common symptoms include limb swelling, a tight or heavy feeling, limited range of motion, aching or other discomfort, recurrent infections, and skin thickening and hardening.

Lymphedema develops when lymphatic vessels cannot drain lymphatic fluid adequately.  Vein specialists classify the condition as primary or secondary.  They cite a number of lymphedema causes

The causes of the secondary form include surgery, various types of cancer, radiation treatments, and infection.  The primary form is an inherited disorder caused by the way lymph vessels develop.  Its specific causes include Milroy’s disease, Meige’s disease, and age-related disease typically occurring after the age of 35.  Individuals who carry excess weight, are at an advanced age, or suffer from psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis have elevated risk factors for developing lymphedema.

Leg Ulcer Treatment Options

After determining the cause of a leg ulcer, a vein specialist develops an individualized treatment program for each patient.  The objective is relieving discomfort while speeding healing.  The treatment plan created depends on the individual’s medical condition, overall health, and ability to perform wound care.

An early diagnosis and quick intervention are crucial for an optimal outcome.  They result in pain relief, halt wound enlargement, and help prevent infections.  While a majority of patients who undergo early treatment experience no serious complications, delaying care could result in an infection that might spread to the bone.

When an ulcer is infected, physicians prescribe antibiotics to reduce the chance of any complications.  General wound care and use of compression garments are traditional therapies.  Medication for preventing blood clots and orthotics or prosthetics to help prevent additional ulcers are additional options.