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Leg ulcer, venous

Introduction

A leg ulcer is a long-lasting (chronic) wound on your leg or foot that takes more than six weeks to heal.

The symptoms of a venous leg ulcer include pain, itching and swelling in the affected leg. There may also be other signs, such as discoloured or hardened skin around the ulcer.

You should see your GP if you think you may have a venous leg ulcer as they will not heal on their own. Your GP will examine your leg and may carry out additional tests to rule out other conditions.

Read more information about how a venous leg ulcer is diagnosed.

What causes a venous leg ulcer?

A venous leg ulcer is the most common type of leg ulcer, accounting for 80-85% of all cases. Venous leg ulcers develop when persistently high blood pressure in the veins of the legs (venous hypertension) causes damage to the skin, which eventually breaks down and forms an ulcer

Read more information about the causes of a venous leg ulcer.

Who is affected?

Venous leg ulcers affect around 1 in 500 people in the UK. Although this rate rises sharply with age with an estimated 1 in 50 people over the age of 80 developing venous leg ulcers.

You are also more at risk of developing a venous leg ulcer if you:

  • are unable to move properly
  • are obese
  • have varicose veins

Treating venous leg ulcers

With 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 blood pressure inside the legs.

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

Leg ulcers are commonly colonised by many types of bacteria. However, bacteria are not the cause of the ulcer and do not need to be treated unless there is an obvious infection. Antibiotics have no effect on healing the ulcer, so are not part of routine treatment.

Read more information about treating venous leg ulcers.

A venous leg ulcer can also lead to several complications, including a loss of mobility and the risk of infection. In rare cases, infection could lead to more serious conditions such as osteomyelitis or blood poisoning (sepsis).

Read more information about complications of venous leg ulcers.

Can venous leg ulcers be prevented?

There are several ways to help prevent a venous leg ulcer, such as wearing a compression stocking, losing weight if you are obese, and taking care of your skin.

This is particularly important if you have previously had a leg ulcer, as once a leg has suffered a venous ulcer, there is a one in four chance of further ulcers developing within two years.

Read more information about preventing a venous leg ulcer.



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Symptoms of venous leg ulcer

Causes of venous leg ulcer

Diagnosing a venous leg ulcer

Treating a venous leg ulcer

Complications of a venous leg ulcer

Preventing a venous leg ulcer

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