Venous ulcers are sores that take weeks, or sometimes months, to heal. They can worsen quickly, putting you at risk for complications that cause some people to lose their limbs. With successful treatment, you can avoid these issues.
A venous ulcer, also known as venous stasis ulcer, is a wound that takes longer than usual to heal. It’s due to vein and blood flow issues and often occurs on your legs near your ankle.
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Venous ulcers can take several months to heal. In severe cases, the ulcer never heals.
Venous ulcers occur when oxygen-poor blood can’t flow from your extremities back to your heart. Instead, it pools, creating pressure in your veins. This damages skin tissue and leads to an ulcer.
Your veins contain tiny valves that keep blood circulating throughout your body. These valves snap open and shut to move blood against the force of gravity back to your heart. In some people, venous diseases affect valve functioning. Other medical conditions, like diabetes, can also put you at risk for leg and foot ulcers.
Chronic venous insufficiency is a common cause of valve dysfunction. It occurs when your valves are damaged or too weak to do their job.
Other venous ulcer causes include:
A variety of factors can raise your risk of venous ulcers. They include:
They’re often shallow, irregularly shaped sores. The skin surrounding the stasis ulcer may be hard and discolored.
Symptoms of venous ulcers include
A physical exam is typically all that’s necessary to diagnose a venous ulcer. Your healthcare provider may ask about your health history to learn about conditions that may have caused the ulcer.
Testing lets your healthcare provider know how severe the ulcer is. You may also undergo regular testing to determine whether venous ulcer treatments are working.
Tests for venous ulcers include:
Venous ulcers don’t heal on their own. The longer you live with them, the greater the likelihood of permanent tissue damage. The damage can spread or cause infections that can become life- or limb-threatening, such as gangrene.
In severe cases, it may be necessary to surgically remove (amputate) your affected limb. Timely care from an experienced wound care provider significantly lowers this risk.
The therapies that are best for you depend on the location and severity of the ulcer. Care typically includes frequent follow-up appointments to ensure treatments are working.
Venous ulcer treatments often include:
Venous ulcers that are severe or not responding to standard therapies may require additional treatments such as:
Preventive care can help you avoid a venous stasis ulcer. If you’ve had one in the past, these steps can lower the risk of ulcers recurring (returning) after treatment.
Venous ulcer prevention includes:
With successful treatment, people with venous stasis ulcers can make a full recovery. But once you’ve had a venous ulcer, you’re more likely to experience them again in the future. They often come back in the same area.
While you’re undergoing treatment, there are steps you can take to promote healing. These include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Venous stasis ulcers are wounds that are slow to heal. They typically occur in people with vein issues. Timely specialized care is necessary to prevent complications, like infections that can become life-threatening. Nonhealing ulcers also raise your risk of amputation. Venous ulcers can come back (recur) after treatment, which is why care often includes preventive therapies. Most people make a full recovery. But it’s essential to follow all care instructions.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/26/2022.
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