Venous ulcers are slow-healing open sores on the legs and feet that often arise when underlying vein disease isn’t properly treated — or treated at all. While some cases can be traced to genetic factors, there are a number of lifestyle factors that put you at risk for developing vein disease and ulcers, or worsening them if you already have them.
At Comprehensive Vascular Care, our expert team of board-certified vascular surgeons and wound care specialists works with patients who have all manner of vein disease, including venous ulcers. As the risk of infection and the development of gangrenous tissue are high with untreated ulcers, they want their patients to understand what factors are within their control to change, leading to healthier outcomes.
A brief overview of vein disease
Vein disease progresses through a number of steps before ulcers develop.
1. Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)
The veins return deoxygenated blood from the body’s tissues to the heart. If a vein wall or one of the vein’s one-way valves becomes damaged, blood can backtrack, pooling around the damaged area and causing sluggish flow.
2. Varicose veins
With sluggish blood flow, the pooled blood presses against the vein walls, causing them to become engorged. Now called varicose veins, they appear as ropy, colored swellings on the legs, especially the lower legs. While they may be primarily a cosmetic problem, they can also cause aching pain, swelling, itchiness, and a feeling of heaviness.
When veins are swollen with blood, they begin leaking fluid into the tissues, which also swell as a result. In addition, the fluid irritates the muscles, leading to cramping and pain in the affected leg. The skin on your lower legs may also start to appear coarse and leathery or take on a pale blue or red color.
4. Venous stasis dermatitis
If you don’t treat the edema, venous stasis dermatitis may occur. The color around your ankles and lower legs changes as a result of blood vessels bursting from the internal pressure. The areas appear brown or red from hemosiderin deposits, a breakdown product of hemoglobin. The skin over the vessels may also turn shiny or scaly or become thickened.
5. Venous ulcers
Ulcers are easy to identify because they’re basically open sores on the lower leg or ankle area surrounded by discolored and hardened skin. If you touch them, they may ooze venous blood, and if they’re infected, they can produce large amounts of pus. While the wound itself may be painless, the edema and infection can cause a great deal of pain.
Left untreated, an infected ulcer can lead to cellulitis or gangrene and increases the risk of foot or leg amputation, especially in diabetics.
Lifestyle factors that cause or worsen ulcers
To be fair, lifestyle factors that cause venous ulcers are the same as those that lead to venous insufficiency in the first place. They include:
- Being overweight or obese (increases pressure on veins)
- Being pregnant
- Insufficient exercise (can lead to obesity)
- Untreated diabetes (high sugar levels fuel vein disease)
- Smoking (contributes to narrowing of arteries and veins, increasing pressure)
- Standing or sitting for lengthy periods of time
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol or lipid levels (forms plaques on vein walls)
Fortunately, lifestyle factors are within your control, and by knowing your risks, you can change your behavior to stave off vein disease. Start with eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein, and getting at least a moderate amount of exercise to keep your circulatory system pumping and healthy. And if you smoke, quit! Not only will that help with vein disease, it will improve your overall health as well.
If you have an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, take active steps to treat it. Be an advocate for your own health care and get as much information from your doctors as possible to understand how to manage the symptoms.
If you’re at risk for developing vein disease, or if you already have it, it’s time to come into Comprehensive Vascular Care for an evaluation and treatment. Give us a call at either of our locations to set up a consultation with a vein or wound care specialist, or book online with us today.