A stasis ulcer, also called a venous leg ulcer is the most common cause of chronic full-thickness skin loss on the lower extremities. A stasis ulcer is when the veins are unable to carry venous blood from the feet and legs back towards the heart due to damaged or weak venous valves. This causes increase pressure in the veins due to blood pooling and soon forms sores or ulcers mainly in the skin of the legs.
Stasis ulcers are quite common, affecting approximately 1% of the US population. Their development have been linked to a variety of medical problems and lifestyle factors, which include:
- Older age
- Previous Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
- Overweight and Obesity
- Fractures, surgery or injury in the lower limbs
- High blood pressure
- Standing upright for long periods of time
- Multiple pregnancies
- Varicose veins
Stasis ulcers are mainly caused by Venous insufficiency, Venous hypertension which is high blood pressure within the veins, and Oedema, when fluid has accumulated in the lower limbs. These factors eventually result in skin breakdown, causing the start of an ulcer. A stasis ulcer is located on the lower legs, commonly seen on the inner ankle or the gaiter area. The ulcer usually causes minimal pain, has a reddish-brown skin discolouration from the build up of broken down red blood cells, presents dermatitis which can range from blistered and oozy, or dry, scaly and itchy skin. Ankle swelling, thick and slow-growing toenails and Lipodermatosclerosis which is thickened, woody skin on the legs can also be present in the case of a stasis ulcer. The main complication of a stasis ulcer is an infection. The infection can delay the healing process, which will require antibiotic treatment.
The general aim in the treatment for stasis ulcers is to address the underlying issue causing the sores, provide relief for symptoms and promote wound healing.
- Reduce weight by adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise to aid circulation.
- Reduce leg swelling by elevating your leg above heart level as frequently as possible, for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.
- Compression bandaging worn daily to help heal stasis ulcers, limit swelling in the legs and provide pain relief.
- Compression stockings are useful for wound prevention, but are less effective in treating established ulcers.
Encouragement for the healing of stasis ulcers can be obtained from taking oral medications that affect blood flow, such as aspirin. However, if the ulcer has developed significantly, surgical intervention may help the stasis ulcer to heal and prevent it from recurring.
Stasis leg ulcers are a chronic condition and can persist, anywhere from a few months to many years. Once they have healed, there is a high chance that the stasis ulcers will return, unless effective treatment for the underlying venous insufficiency has been carried out. If you believe you have stasis ulcer or a sore on your leg that has been there for some time, be sure to seek medical advice from your doctor.