Do you know your risk for leg ulcers? Lower-leg ulcers are a serious complication that can develop with untreated vein disease. In order to protect yourself from ulcers, it’s important to understand the risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing this type of wound.
Risk factors for CVD
One of the main reasons people develop ulcers is because of CVD, chronic venous disease. And while we don’t always know why people develop CVD, some contributing factors include:
- Being a woman
- Being pregnant
- Family history
- On the job risks, like all day standing or sitting.
Any one of these factors can increase your risk of compromised blood flow, varicose veins, and, eventually, chronic venous disease. This, in turn, can increase your risk for leg ulcers. Which means you’re more likely to develop an ulcer on your lower legs.
Cholesterol, PAD and Risk for Leg Ulcers
When you have high cholesterol, it builds up in your arteries. Then, plaque can narrow your arteries’ lining (this condition is called atherosclerosis. The plaque is made of cholesterol and other fatty substances called triglycerides.)
Because plaque narrows your arteries, and because high cholesterol can trigger plaque buildup, high cholesterol levels increase your risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). When you have PAD, your narrowed arteries limit the amount of oxygen-rich blood that reaches your legs and feet. And that’s where your risk for legs ulcers also rises.
When blood flow to your legs is restricted, sores may develop as blood pools and seeps through your skin. Then, the sores that develop are less likely to heal because of your reduced blood flow. That’s why you’ll need immediate medical attention if you develop an ulcer on your legs.
Warning Signs for Lower Leg Ulcers
Of course, it’s important to remember that not all people who have CVD will develop ulcers. With people who have CVD, you can watch for certain signs that may indicate an ulcer will soon form:
- Skin changes: CVD patients with varicose veins, thickened skin or venous eczema (also known as varicose eczema, symptoms include itchy, flaky, dry, crusty and/or swollen skin) are more likely to develop an ulcer. We also call this condition venous eczema. Stasis or gravitational eczema also refer to the same condition. When you have stasis eczema, your skin may also change color. It could tighten or harden, a condition we call lipodermatosclerosis. Also, you may develop atrophie blanche, which leaves small white scars on your skin. And eczema may spread to other areas of your body. Steroid creams may relieve your symptoms, and compression stockings can help. But treating your circulatory issues will offer the best and lasting relief.
- Edema: Studies show that edema is present in about 90% of patients with lower leg ulcers. Edema, or swelling, occurs when you form more lymph fluid than can be drained, or when your lymph material doesn’t flow well. This leads to a build-up of the fluid that results in swelling in your lower legs.
How to Prevent Venous Ulcers
Whether or not you’re displaying ulcer warning signs, you can take measures to prevent this devastating complication. These steps include:
- Avoiding weight gain
- Eating a balanced diet
- Regularly moisturizing your skin
- Avoid cigarettes or any kind of smoking
- Moving every 30 minutes to avoid long periods of sitting or standing
- Exercising regularly
- Treating varicose veins
If you are concerned about developing ulcers, or already have an ulcer in need of attention, it is important to see your Houston area vein specialist right away. Any delay could pose a serious risk to your limbs, as well as your overall health.
Sources: NHS.uk, Nursing Times, Our Community Now