Venous Stasis Dermatitis

Overview

What is venous stasis dermatitis?

Venous stasis dermatitis is a condition in which your skin — usually on your lower legs — becomes swollen or inflamed. This type of leg swelling happens as you get older. Veins normally send blood back to the heart to get more oxygen. If you have venous stasis, your veins can’t send the blood from your legs back to your heart. Blood pools in the lower legs and creates swelling, pressure and skin problems.

Other names for venous stasis dermatitis include:

  • Gravitational dermatitis.
  • Stasis dermatitis.
  • Venous eczema.

Who might get venous stasis dermatitis?

Anyone can get venous stasis dermatitis as they age. But the condition is more common in people who have:

You might develop venous stasis dermatitis if you’ve had radiation therapy. Swelling (edema) can occur in the irradiated parts of your body and put pressure on your skin.

How common is venous stasis dermatitis?

Venous stasis dermatitis is common in people ages 50 and older. About 15 to 20 million people in this age group in the U.S. have the condition.

How does venous stasis dermatitis affect me?

Venous stasis dermatitis causes swelling in your legs. The swelling puts pressure on your skin, and that can cause redness, itchiness and a feeling of heaviness or achiness. Left untreated, venous stasis dermatitis can cause sores. These sores can get infected. This condition can also cause permanent changes to your skin.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes venous stasis dermatitis?

Venous stasis dermatitis happens when blood collects in the lower legs (or sometimes in the arms). This blood pooling (known as stasis) may be due to chronic venous insufficiency. Veins can stretch and they have valves that keep blood moving the right direction. As we age those valves can stop working well and the veins stretch out and hold the blood instead of sending it back to the heart. Blood can also collect because you have blood clots, an injury or surgery.

Pooled blood and fluids leak from the veins and put pressure on the skin from the inside. This pressure causes stasis dermatitis symptoms.

What are the risk factors for venous stasis dermatitis?

Several conditions may put you at higher risk for stasis dermatitis. One risk factor is getting older. Other risk factors include:

  • Not exercising enough.
  • Sitting too long.
  • Standing too long.

You’re also at higher risk for stasis dermatitis if you have:

What are stasis dermatitis symptoms?

In early-stage venous stasis dermatitis, you may notice that your legs or ankles swell. They may appear discolored. You may also have:

  • Itchy skin (pruritus).
  • Discolored (yellowish-brown) skin.
  • Red, scaly or thick patches.
  • Tender or painful areas.

When you don’t get treatment, venous stasis dermatitis can also cause leg and foot ulcers. Sometimes, an infection called cellulitis may develop.

Is venous stasis dermatitis contagious?

Venous stasis dermatitis isn’t contagious.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is venous stasis dermatitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider diagnoses venous stasis dermatitis by examining your legs and skin. 

What tests diagnose venous stasis dermatitis?

Healthcare providers may want to know more about what’s causing blood to pool in your legs. Your provider may recommend an ultrasound test to make sure you don’t have a blood clot. This test can also show damage in the blood vessels in your legs.

Your healthcare provider may order allergy testing. Providers do these tests to make sure your skin symptoms aren’t an allergic reaction.

Management and Treatment

How is venous stasis dermatitis treated?

There are several ways to treat venous stasis dermatitis. To treat the skin, your healthcare provider may recommend you:

  • Apply a special bandage (dressing) to affected areas.
  • Rub a medicated cream into the skin.
  • Take antibiotics if you have an infection.

Follow your healthcare provider’s directions. Use only medications and dressings that they tell you to use. Your provider may also recommend that you:

  • Elevate your feet throughout the day and at night to keep blood from pooling.
  • Wear compression stockings or socks to improve blood flow.

Will I need surgery for venous stasis dermatitis?

If your symptoms aren’t improving or getting worse, your healthcare provider will talk to you about the next steps. You may need other venous disease treatments, such as surgery, to improve blood flow in your veins.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of developing venous stasis dermatitis?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have health conditions that put you at higher risk for developing venous stasis dermatitis. They may recommend steps you can take to lower your risk.

You should also:

  • Exercise if your healthcare provider recommends it.
  • Keep your legs elevated (higher than your heart) when you’re sitting.
  • Use lotion to keep your skin from becoming dry.
  • Walk briskly for a few minutes after you’ve been standing or sitting for an hour.

Check your skin often if you have chronic venous insufficiency. If you see changes like discoloration, redness or swelling, call your healthcare provider. Let them know right away if any sores develop on your skin.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long will I have venous stasis dermatitis?

Venous insufficiency and venous stasis dermatitis are long-term conditions. Once you have them, you will always have them. Work with your provider to manage your symptoms so you can be as comfortable as possible.

Can healthcare providers cure venous stasis dermatitis?

Healthcare providers can’t cure venous stasis dermatitis. But you can help control the condition by checking your skin regularly and getting treatment as needed. A dermatologist or your primary care provider can be your partner in managing venous stasis dermatitis.

Are there long-term effects of venous stasis dermatitis?

Chronic venous stasis dermatitis can cause infection if left untreated. Ongoing management of the condition helps avoid infection and other complications. Venous stasis dermatitis can cause other serious complications, like blood clots.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you notice changes in your skin, talk to your healthcare provider. These changes may include redness, pain or itching.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Venous stasis dermatitis happens when blood pools in the legs and feet because veins don’t function properly. You can manage this lifelong condition by taking steps to improve blood flow in your legs. Check your skin often, and if you notice any changes, see your healthcare provider. If you have venous stasis, talk to your provider about the best ways to manage symptoms.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema Types: Stasis Dermatitis Diagnosis and Treatment. (https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/stasis-dermatitis/treatment) Accessed 10/28/2022.
  • American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema types: Stasis Dermatitis Overview. (https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/stasis-dermatitis) Accessed 10/28/2022.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Stasis Dermatitis. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/skin-disorders/itching-and-dermatitis/stasis-dermatitis) Accessed 10/28/2022.
  • National Eczema Association. Stasis Dermatitis. (https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/stasis-dermatitis/) Accessed 10/28/2022.

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