How Do I Know If My Leg Sore Is a Leg Ulcer?
Leg ulcers are open, slow-healing, often painful wounds. Signs include redness, swelling, discharge, odor, crusty surface, and skin changes. The risks of an untreated leg ulcer are serious, so seeking medical attention for a wound is highly recommended; however, how do you know when a simple break in the skin is an ulcer? Read on to find out.
We've all experienced the occasional minor injury on our legs. However, what appears to be a simple sore may sometimes evolve into a more serious concern known as a leg ulcer. If you've ever wondered how to determine if a persistent wound on your leg is more than just a nuisance, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s delve into the essentials and help you recognize the signs and causes of leg ulcers—and when it's recommended to seek a healthcare professional about your leg sore.
What's a Leg Ulcer?
First, let's clear up what exactly a leg ulcer is. A leg ulcer is an open wound that typically appears on the lower leg just above the ankle and doesn’t seem to heal. These ulcers can be itchy and painful and, if not properly taken care of, can worsen over time. There are various types of leg ulcers, but the most common ones are venous, arterial, and diabetic ulcers. We’ll define each of these later.
Causes and Treatment of Leg Ulcers
Understanding why leg ulcers happen is essential to recognizing an ulcer on your own leg. Let's break down the three most common types:
These are the most common type of leg ulcers and often result from poor circulation in the veins. According to the Circulation Foundation, about 80 percent of leg ulcers are caused by venous disease, also known as vein disease. Vein disease happens when the valves in your veins don't work correctly, which can lead to blood pooling in your legs, eventually causing ulcers.
Fortunately, venous ulcers can be effectively treated by a vein specialist by correcting the underlying cause: vein disease. Treatment for venous ulcers at Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) is office-based, nearly pain-free, and not only treats the existing ulcer but also prevents it from happening again. CVR uses only modern, advanced treatment options, including radiofrequency ablation, endovenous laser ablation, and ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy. These techniques shut down the diseased veins, allowing blood to circulate through healthier veins.
These ulcers occur due to a lack of blood flow to your legs. Conditions like atherosclerosis, where your arteries get clogged with plaque, can restrict blood flow and lead to ulcer formation. Arterial ulcers often appear on the outer side of the ankle, feet, heels, or toes on tight, hairless skin and tend to be deep but do not bleed. Arterial ulcers tend to have a “punched-out” look. About 15 percent of leg ulcers are due to arterial disease.
The goal of treating an arterial ulcer is to improve circulation. Depending on the severity of the wound, angioplasty surgery may be recommended to improve blood flow to tissues in organs.
If you have diabetes, you're at risk of this serious complication. High blood sugar levels can damage nerves and blood vessels in your legs, making it easier for ulcers to develop if diabetes is uncontrolled. According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), about 15-20 percent of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer during their lifetime, and 1 percent will require an amputation.
One way to treat a diabetic ulcer is to remove the dead skin and tissue. Called debridement, this treatment is never done at home and is always done by a medical practitioner, such as a podiatrist. At-home management of diabetic ulcers includes wearing special shoes or braces, as recommended by a healthcare provider, keeping the ulcer clean and bandaged, reducing pressure on that part of the foot, and managing blood pressure.
Is it a Simple Sore or an Ulcer? Know the Signs
How can you tell if that lesion on your leg is just a minor annoyance or a full-blown ulcer? Keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs:
Slow Healing: One of the main red flags is if the sore doesn't seem to heal, even after a few weeks. If your wound is lingering and not getting better (or even getting worse), it's time to seek medical attention.
Pain: Leg ulcers can be painful. There's a good reason to be concerned if you're experiencing persistent pain, especially around the sore.
Redness and Swelling: Another sign to watch for is redness and swelling around the wound. If it's expanding and looking angry, it might be time to seek help.
Discharge: If you notice any yellow or green discharge from the sore, that's a clear sign of infection, and you should consult a healthcare professional immediately.
Odor: An unpleasant odor coming from the wound is another indication of infection. Don't ignore this dramatic, concerning symptom. Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Crusty Surface: Leg ulcers often have a crusty or scaly surface. If your sore is constantly peeling or oozing, it's time to take action and see a doctor. In the case of a venous ulcer, a vein specialist is your doctor of choice. CVR, the nation’s leader in vein care, has 70+ vein physicians at 110+ vein clinic locations across the United States.
Changes in the Skin: Keep an eye on the skin around the sore. If it's changing color, getting itchy, or feeling warm to the touch, that's another signal that your wound is more severe and needs attention. Again, if vein disease is the root cause of your lingering wound, a CVR physician is your healthcare provider of choice. Learn more HERE.
I Think I Have an Ulcer. What Should I Do?
If you suspect you have a leg ulcer, the best course of action is to seek professional medical advice. Here are the steps you should follow:
- Visit Your Doctor: Make an appointment with your primary care physician or a specialist, such as the wound care experts at Center for Vein Restoration (CVR). Your CVR vein physician will assess your leg sore, discuss your medical history, and recommend any necessary tests and a treatment plan. As previously mentioned, all vein treatment options are performed as an outpatient, take an hour or less to complete, and will allow you to return to your normal activities immediately with few restrictions.
- Keep It Clean: In the meantime, keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid using harsh soaps or ointments that might irritate the area. Gently cover the ulcer with a sterile bandage to prevent infection.
- Elevation: Whenever you can, elevate your leg, especially when sitting or lying down. This helps improve blood flow to the area.
- Compression: For venous ulcers, your doctor may recommend compression stockings to help improve blood circulation in your legs.
- Medication: Depending on the type and severity of the ulcer, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent infection. Other medications can help with pain management.
- Lifestyle Changes: No matter the cause of your leg ulcer, lifestyle changes may be necessary. This could include improving your diet, quitting smoking, avoiding standing or sitting for long periods (if the cause of vein disease), or managing your blood sugar levels (if the cause of diabetes).
Leg Ulcers: The Takeaway
Your health is invaluable. If you ever have doubts about a sore on your leg, ankle, or foot, it's always best to consult a healthcare expert. Remember, early diagnosis and proper wound care can make a big difference in your healing journey.
If you notice any of the signs we've discussed, don't hesitate to reach out to a CVR vein health specialist. The sooner you seek help, the better your chances of successful treatment and recovery. CVR accepts many insurances, including Aetna, Amerigroup, Anthem, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, MultiPlan, Medicaid, Medicare, and more.
Call 1-800-FIX-LEGS (1-800-349-5347) to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today. Your legs will thank you for it!