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What causes leg ulcers? 7 possible conditions

What Are Leg Ulcers?

Leg ulcers are unhealed sores or open wounds on the legs. Without treatment, these types of ulcers can keep recurring. This condition is most commonly caused by poor circulation, though it may be attributed to a variety of ailments. These wounds are also more common in women, but they can affect both men and women of any age. If they are treated early, leg ulcers can improve without causing any further complications.

Causes of Leg Ulcers

The odds of developing leg ulcers increase with age, and they are often hereditary—in other words, if your parents had ulcers, you are more likely to develop them.

Some of the most common causes of these ulcers are:

  • poor blood circulation
  • diabetes
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • kidney disease
  • increased pressure in the legs
  • smoking
  • infections

Varicose veins (swollen and visible veins) are often associated with leg ulcers, but the two conditions aren’t always found together. Leg ulcers are often a complication of untreated varicose veins.

Symptoms of Leg Ulcers

The symptoms of leg ulcers can vary depending on their exact cause. The ulcers are often painful. Sometimes, however, due to nerve damage from mismanaged diabetes, ulcers present with no pain. This lack of pain is one reason why many patients misdiagnose themselves and fail to seek medical treatment.

It is important to make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • open sores
  • pus in the affected area
  • pain in the affected area
  • increasing size of the wound
  • leg swelling
  • enlarged veins
  • pain or heaviness in the legs

Diagnosing Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers are diagnosed with a physical examination combined with extensive testing to determine their exact cause. Your doctor will be able to differentiate between a leg ulcer and regular sore just by looking at it. He or she will likely order a variety of tests to determine the right treatment plan, including:

  • CT scans (computed tomography scan, an imaging scan that takes fine detail cross-sectional X-rays)
  • MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging that uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to create a detailed picture of the affected area)
  • noninvasive vascular studies using ultrasound (the use of high-frequency sound waves to detect problems and blockages in the blood vessels)
  • X-rays

Treating Leg Ulcers

Treating leg ulcers is crucial to relieve pain, prevent infection, and to stop the wound from spreading. If pus is draining from the sore, you likely have an infection. Infections are treated with antibiotics to avoid further complications. Compression bandages are also used to help close the wound and prevent infection. In severe cases, your doctor may order orthotics (braces) to help you walk better while preventing future ulcers.

Your doctor may also recommend aspirin to prevent blood clots in the legs, but it is important that you don’t start this kind of regimen without first consulting the doctor.

Home Remedies

Along with medical treatment, your doctor may recommend home remedies to ease the discomfort and assist in healing of the leg ulcers. First, it is important to keep any open wounds clean to prevent infection. Change any bandages and dressings frequently to keep the area dry, so it can heal.

Other home remedies may include:

  • increasing your water intake
  • eating more produce
  • wearing good walking shoes
  • getting regular, moderate-intensity exercise

Patients are increasingly looking into alternative remedies for leg ulcers. Never use alternative methods in lieu of traditional medical treatment without checking with your doctor. These remedies may very well be beneficial but they can also aggravate the condition, depending on the preparation and the stage of resolution of the ulcers.

Preventing Leg Ulcers

Since poor circulation is the most common cause of leg ulcers, it makes sense to prevent the onset of or control hypertension, diabetes, and other related conditions. Staying healthy with a sensible diet and regular exercise can reduce your weight, thereby decreasing your risk of leg ulcers. Also, you should decrease your sodium intake and quit smoking for the best outlook.

Outlook for Leg Ulcers

In most cases, treatment is effective in easing the symptoms of leg ulcers. However, if they are not treated in a timely fashion, it is possible that a leg ulcer can become infected. Infection can even spread to the bone. It is essential to see your doctor as soon as you notice any issues.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Diabetes Overview

Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic diseases caused by defects in insulin production or function. Advanced diabetes may cause stomach pain, nausea, dizziness, and cramps.

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Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque. It's also called arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

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Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency is a condition where the flow of blood through the veins is blocked, causing blood to pool in the legs. It's often caused by blood clots.

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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder caused by plaque build-up in peripheral arteries. It typically affects the arteries that supply blood to the arms, legs, and organs located below the stomach.

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High Blood Pressure Overview

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other serious health problems. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and vital organs.

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Kidney Failure

Your body becomes overloaded with toxins if your kidneys can't do their regular job. This can lead to kidney failure and even be life-threatening.

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Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease that causes red blood cells to have an abnormal shape, causing blood flow problems. This can lead to tissue damage and pain, as well as enlarged spleen, anemia, and other symptoms.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.