Leg ulcers

What is a leg ulcer?

A leg ulcer is an area that has lost its covering layer of skin so that the tissues underneath the skin are exposed. An ulcer may begin a result of trauma or an injury to the skin or may appear spontaneously. There are many causes of leg ulcers, the common causes include venous insufficiency, peripheral arterial disease and diabetes. Ulcers that are not healing despite appropriate dressings should be assessed by a vascular surgeon to identify and treat the underlying cause.

What are the symptoms of a leg ulcer?

Ulcers may or may not be painful. There may be swelling, redness, dry and scaly skin, brown discoloration or itchy rashes associated with an ulcer.

What causes leg ulcers?

Common causes:

  • Venous insufficiency
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Diabetes

Uncommon causes:

  • Infections
  • Vasculitis
  • Medications
  • Cancer
  • Lymphoedema
  • Pressure

What are the risk factors for leg ulcers?

  • Age
  • Varicose veins
  • Smoking
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Diabetes
  • Medications
  • Bed bound

How will my leg ulcer be assessed?

  • History and examination
  • Arterial Duplex ultrasound
  • Arterial pressure measurements
  • CT angiogram
  • Venous insufficiency duplex ultrasound
  • Biopsy
  • Wound swab

What treatments are available for leg ulcers?

Venous ulcers

  • Compression bandaging/stockings
  • Varicose vein sclerotherapy
  • Varicose vein radiofrequency ablation/ endovenous laser
  • Surgery
  • Skin grafting

Arterial ulcers

  • Improving blood flow – angioplasty, stenting, bypass surgery
  • Surgery
  • Skin grafting

Diabetic ulcers

  • Improving blood flow – angioplasty, stenting, bypass surgery
  • Offloading ulcers with special foot wear
  • Skin grafting
  • Surgery to correct deformities in the foot