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Leg ulcer

Leg ulcer symptoms and treatment

Chronic leg ulcers are long-lasting sores that don’t heal well. We explain how the pain and swelling is treated.

About

When air and bacteria get into a sore in the leg (often caused by an injury) it can cause an ulcer to form. Chronic leg ulcers are long-lasting sores that don’t heal in a normal time span of around four to six weeks, often causing pain and swelling.

Need to know

  • Symptoms and causes of leg ulcers icon plus

    Venous disease (problems with the functioning of the veins) is the most common cause of leg ulcers. Damage to the valves in your veins can cause blood to flow in the wrong direction, creating high pressure in the veins which damages the skin and leads to ulcers.

    Sometimes, leg ulcers are caused by artery problems, or arterial disease, or by conditions such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

    The main symptoms associated with leg ulcers are:
    • pain
    • itching
    • swelling
    • foul-smelling discharge
    • hard skin
    • discolouration of the skin
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Diagnosis usually involves an examination of the affected leg. Your medical history will also be taken into account. People who have experienced any of the following are at a higher risk of developing venous leg ulcers:
    • deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
    • osteoarthritis
    • leg injuries
    • obesity
    • paralysis
    • varicose veins
    • if you've recently had an operation on your leg

    A test called a Doppler Study may also be used to rule out peripheral arterial disease being the cause of the ulcer. Your consultant will measure the blood pressure in the arteries around your ankles to check that it isn’t lower than the blood pressure in your arms
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Your nurse or consultant will ensure the ulcer is kept clean and well-dressed to encourage it to heal. A firm compression bandage may be used to improve vein circulation - this will need to be changed weekly by trained medical professionals.

    If you have a venous leg ulcer, it’s important to keep your leg raised to help lower the pressure in the leg veins. You can easily do this at regular intervals to help with the swelling in your legs and ankles. Keeping active and walking around will also help.

    You may be prescribed antibiotics if your ulcer becomes infected. In rare cases, when the ulcers are large or do not heal, surgery may be required.
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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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