Leg ulcers are open wounds or unhealed sores that develop on the skin of the leg. A variety of conditions can cause a leg ulcer, including venous conditions, neuropathy, pressure, infections, and more.

A person should contact their doctor for advice as soon as they have concerns about a leg ulcer. It is important that a doctor diagnose the type of leg ulcer to ensure a person receives the correct treatment.

This article looks at the potential causes of leg ulcers, risk factors, prevention, and more.

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Chronic venous disease affects many people.

Venous disease leads to changes in the pressure of a person’s veins, which affects their blood flow. It is a chronic condition that has a broad spectrum of venous symptoms, including varicose veins and venous leg ulcers.

Poor circulation can cause an ulcer to develop on the lower leg.

Atherosclerosis, which is when circulation is poor due to blocked arteries, can prevent the healing of an ulcer that may develop as a result of an injury. The ulcer is known as an arterial ulcer.

Learn more about poor circulation.

Poor circulation in the lower legs can lead to stasis dermatitis. This condition causes inflammation, itchy skin, and venous ulcers.

The ulcers may bleed or ooze. They may also cause scars once the ulcers have healed.

Learn more about stasis dermatitis and ulcers.

Pressure ulcers are the result of decreased mobility and obstruction of blood flow to the leg. This affects blood circulation in the veins of the leg, increasing the pressure inside the veins, which may damage blood vessels in the skin.

Certain factors may increase the risk of pressure ulcers. These include:

Neuropathy is when a person experiences damage to their nerves. This can occur for a variety of reasons.

In people with diabetes, nerve damage can occur as a result of high blood sugar. This reduces sensitivity. Someone with diabetic neuropathy may be unable to withdraw from painful stimuli that may be inhibiting blood flow.

This can cause neuropathic ulcers in the lower body, most commonly the foot but potentially in other parts of the body, including the lower legs.

Learn more about diabetic neuropathy.

Pyoderma gangrenosum is a rare condition that causes painful ulcers on the skin, along with fever and joint pain. It is not an infectious disease, so it cannot be passed on from one person to another person.

According to DermNet, multiple ulcers, and at least one ulcer at the front of the lower leg, are minor criteria for pyoderma gangrenosum.

Buruli ulcer is a chronic condition caused by the Mycobacterium ulcerans bacteria. Infection from these bacteria can form ulcers on the legs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most diagnoses occur in the African Region (AFRO) and the Western Pacific Region (WPRO).

Certain factors can increase the risk of a person developing an ulcer on their leg. Possible risk factors include:

  • Obesity: Obesity increases the pressure on the blood vessels in a person’s legs, increasing the risk of developing skin ulcers on the legs.
  • Reduced mobility: If a person is unable to move around, they may have weaker calf muscles, which can affect circulation.
  • Previous leg injury: Having a previous leg injury may increase a person’s risk of DVT and other problems that can lead to ulcers.

If a person is at risk of leg ulcers, a healthcare professional may recommend certain steps to lower this risk.

Some of these might include:

  • Treating underlying health conditions: Treating any underlying conditions, such as diabetes or DVT, may help reduce the risk of ulcers.
  • Compression stockings: Compression stockings help encourage circulation, reducing the risk of venous leg ulcers.
  • Maintaining a moderate weight: Maintaining a moderate weight may help reduce pressure on the blood vessels, which can cause skin damage.
  • Changing positions: Changing positions or moving around can help reduce the risk of pressure ulcers.

A doctor will be able to provide more advice on ways to reduce the risk of leg ulcers.

To assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis, the doctor may begin by asking questions about symptoms, requesting a medical history, and performing a physical examination.

They may also carry out the Doppler test to help rule out peripheral arterial disease. This test involves measuring the blood pressure in the arteries of a person’s ankles and comparing it to the blood pressure in their arms.

In some cases, such as if they suspect the ulcers are due to diabetes, the doctor may refer the person to a specialist.

Here are some frequently asked questions about leg ulcers.

Are leg ulcers serious?

Leg ulcers are open wounds and are susceptible to infection if a person does not seek medical attention. While rare, it is possible that a leg ulcer can be cancerous.

A person should seek advice from a medical professional if they suspect they have a leg ulcer.

How do you get rid of leg ulcers?

Healing leg ulcers is essential to relieve pain and prevent complications. The first step is cleaning and dressing the ulcer. Depending on the type of ulcer, compression garments may also be useful.

If pus is draining from an ulcer, it may have an infection. Antibiotics can help prevent further complications and help heal the ulcer.

There are numerous possible causes of leg ulcers. These include chronic venous disease, poor circulation, stasis dermatitis, and pressure. Certain conditions, such as diabetes, increase a person’s risk of neuropathy, which can lead to neuropathic ulcers.

Rarer causes include pyoderma gangrenosum and Mycobacterium ulcerans infection.

There are steps a person can take to help reduce their risk of leg ulcers. A doctor may recommend treating any underlying conditions, wearing compression stockings, and maintaining a moderate weight.

If a person suspects they have a leg ulcer, they should seek medical attention.