Each year, approximately 600,000 adults visit a hospital to have a leg ulcer treated, many of which come with an unclear diagnosis and no explanation of the cause. While leg ulcers are prevalent among the patient population, the medical condition is not well-known by those outside the professional medical community. A leg ulcer is simply a wound that fails to heal in a ‘normal’ amount of time. Typically appearing as a break in the skin of the leg, ulcers allow air and bacteria to reach the underlying tissue.
In most healthy adults, wounds heal within one to two weeks; those with other health issues may develop an ulcer when the wound does not close up or heal completely in this timeframe. Here are a few reasons why leg ulcers form, along with the most common and efficient treatment for leg ulcers among adult patients.
The Causes of Leg Ulcers
There are several reasons why leg ulcers may appear after an individual experience a wound, with some more common than others. Leg ulcers are caused by:
- Venous disease: this accounts for 80% of all leg ulcers
- Arterial disease: this accounts for 15% of leg ulcers
- Other medical conditions, like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other rare conditions: these account for 5% of leg ulcers
For some patients, two or more causes may be behind the development of leg ulcers. However, venous disease, or malfunctioning veins, is the most prevalent source of wounds on the legs that fail to heal.
“Leg ulcers can start off small after skin damage, but they tend to create more of a problem the longer they remain untreated.”
Eddie Chaloner, a vein specialist at a clinic in the UK, explains that diseases linked to vein malfunctioning take place because the vein walls stretch or become damaged. When veins do not function properly, this is known as varicose veins. In most patients, varicose veins appear as a bulge or lump in the leg, just beneath the skin’s surface. When varicose veins remain untreated for an extended period, ulcers can form after a cut or injury. Chaloner states that while leg ulcers are more common among elderly patients, the painful condition can happen to anyone with untreated varicose veins.
Leg ulcers can start off small after skin damage, but they tend to create more of a problem the longer they remain untreated. Discolouration takes place, along with scabbing that can be itchy and uncomfortable. As the leg ulcer remains unhealed, the tissue begins to deteriorate which makes it a prime location for constant infection and pain. Ulcers require regular dressing because they often produce a liquid discharge, and in some cases, individuals need to be admitted to the hospital to heal properly.
Treatment Options for Leg Ulcers
Even though leg ulcers are a hassle to live with, the good news is that there are several courses of treatment individuals can take to heal. Some are conservative while others require minimally-invasive surgery. Speaking with a vein specialist or your primary care provider before selecting the right treatment is always recommended.
Keeping the infected area above the level of your heart.
- Elevation: Lifting the legs above the heart for a period of time can help alleviate the pain and swelling of leg ulcers while also promoting healthy blood flow to combat venous disease. Vein specialists recommend elevating the legs for three minutes at a time, in the morning as well as throughout the day, to encourage the veins to move blood more freely back to the heart.
- Compression: One of the most common treatments for leg ulcers and the underlying venous disease that leads to their appearance is compression. Many medical providers recommend wearing compression stockings throughout the day to relieve some of the symptoms related to varicose veins and the discomfort of leg ulcers. The pressure offered by compression stockings stops the progression of the venous disease and decreases the likelihood of blood clots in the legs. For individuals with open leg ulcers, bandages may be used as a form of compression instead.
EVLT laser treatment device
Endovenous Vein Treatment: Elevation and compression offer some respite from the painful symptoms of leg ulcers, but to reduce the occurrence of ulcers in the future, individuals are often encouraged to seek treatment of the underlying issue. Endovenous laser therapy, or EVLT, is a type of minimally-invasive treatment that targets large varicose veins. With the help of targeted laser frequency, a vein specialist is able to gain access to the vein to ultimately seal it off. The closed vein is eventually absorbed into the body and can no longer be seen beneath the skin. Closing off a broker vein reduces the potential for leg ulcers in the future.
Leg ulcers can create a painful experience for individuals who do not take the time to understand what caused them and then seek the most appropriate treatment. A combination of elevation, compression through bandages, and sealing off varicose veins with minimally-invasive outpatient surgery is often the best course of action for those concerned about or currently dealing with leg ulcers from venous disease.
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