What You Should Know About Lower Extremity Leg Ulcers

Blog Post
By South Valley Vascular
May 30, 2023

Leg ulcers, which are open wounds that take two weeks or longer to heal, are often a sign of deeper vascular issues. Here’s everything you need to know about lower extremity leg ulcers and what to do if you have them.

What is a Leg Ulcer?

A leg ulcer is an open wound on the leg that takes more than two weeks to heal despite treatment. They typically appear between the ankle and knee. Also, they can often seep (secreting fluid or pus) and can grow in size if left untreated. If a sore doesn’t heal after three months or more, it’s considered a chronic condition.

Other possible symptoms of leg ulcers include:

  • Dry, scaly, or itchy skin
  • Hardened bumps or formations on the skin
  • Leg pain, especially after standing for a while
  • Red, blue, or purplish skin discoloration (not unlike a bruise)
  • Swelling or edema in the lower legs.

Lower Extremity Ulcers: What You Should Know

Lower extremity ulcers affect about 1% of Americans, with a greater percentage (about 4%) affecting adults 65 and older. They can be a sign of several different underlying vascular conditions.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency

People suffering from chronic venous insufficiency have faulty valves in their leg veins, allowing blood to pool backward into the leg. If the blood pressure in the veins is high enough, the capillaries can burst, causing inflammation, itching, and dry skin. As a result of the pressure in the legs, many patients develop leg ulcers.


Diabetes often causes high blood sugar levels, which further causes fat deposits that cause blood vessels to narrow. Reduced blood flow can cause nerve damage, and diabetic neuropathy, and contribute to ulcer formation. Additionally, diabetes also slows the wound healing process, and nerve damage makes ulcers more difficult to notice.

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral Artery Disease, also called PAD, causes plaque to build up in the arteries. This buildup worsens blood flow, slowing the healing of leg ulcers. People with diabetes also frequently develop PAD, worsening their leg ulcers further.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or chronic poorly-controlled high blood pressure, can cause an extremely painful ulcer on the lower leg. This kind of ulcer is specifically known as a Martorell ulcer. In addition, high blood pressure can cause the capillaries to narrow and cut off the blood supply to the surrounding skin. Then, the skin dies and forms a leg ulcer.

Leg Ulcer Diagnosis and Treatment

Leg ulcers can be a sign of several different underlying vascular conditions. Because of this, it’s best to see a vascular specialist for an accurate diagnosis. Vascular specialists will examine the skin and the wound. And they may also perform an ultrasound screening to measure blood flow. In some cases, they may even request a biopsy to examine the skin tissue itself.

Even when properly treated, leg ulcers can persist for months or even years. The exact treatment plan will vary depending on the ulcer type and cause. However, the main goals are to heal the wound, reduce any swelling, and prevent the ulcer from returning.

Your provider may recommend using compression therapy with stockings or bandages to stimulate blood flow. They may also recommend elevating the leg for at least an hour a day for at least six days. More than that, your doctor will provide regular wound care including debridement (removing dead skin) and applying topical antiseptics to prevent infection. In other situations, antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, skin grafts, or even surgery may be necessary.

South Valley Vascular is Here to Help Treat your Leg Ulcers

Make an appointment with a vascular expert as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and begin treatment. South Valley Vascular is here to help with your leg ulcer treatment. Schedule an appointment today to talk to one of South Valley’s friendly and knowledgeable vascular experts. The road to leg ulcer recovery can begin today, and South Valley Vascular is here to assist in your journey.