What causes leg ulcers? 7 possible conditions
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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.
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
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- kidney disease
- increased pressure in the legs
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Honey: Evidence. (2011, October 1). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/honey/NS_patient-honey/DSECTION=evidence
- Lower Extremity (Leg and Foot) Ulcers. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic.Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/vascular/legfootulcer.aspx
- Varicose Veins. (2010, May 15). National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001109.htm
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