What’s most important to understand about venous leg ulcers is how debilitating and difficult they can be to live with. Often pointing to underlying deficiencies in blood circulation, cases like this end up being a source of constant frustration, especially because the cycle of injury and infection never seems to go away. That was the case for Sean Dougherty, a 66 year old resident of New Jersey, who suffered with leg ulcers for 20 years before finding relief.
His case was like many; ulcers and wounds on his legs would simply never go away. “It would get infected, then subside, then reinfect,” he writes, “[i]t never really healed.” It took a long time until he was properly diagnosed and treated, but this was not for lack of trying. And in fact, venous leg ulcers are challenging because they often go undetected by standard ultrasounds.
But what are venous leg ulcers? What can be done about them? Let’s take a look.
The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving
So how do venous leg ulcers present? Most typically, patients experience sores in the legs—usually on the inside of the leg just above the ankle—that refuse to heal and last for weeks or even months at a time. A number of other symptoms can arise, too, including:
- Pain in the region
- Discoloration and hardening of skin in affected area
Certainly, anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek out medical attention and/or the advice of a specialist.
But what causes venous leg ulcers to form? In a vast majority of cases, they occur as a result of disorders or disease of the veins, which ferry blood back to the heart. When vein walls aren’t strong enough to do their job—or when pressure builds up as a result of blockages or other issues—excess blood starts to pool and collect, especially closer to the skin. This set of circumstances can lead to the formation of injuries and lesions in the legs.
Oftentimes, venous leg ulcers are associated with another dangerous condition: thrombosis. This is essentially when injury leads to larger veins becoming blocked by excess blood clotting material. When such issues occur, and thanks to gravity, problems start to mount.
Pinning Down Venous Leg Ulcers
So what can be done to treat this condition? The first step, of course, is diagnosis. Typically, this involves doctors ruling out other possibilities, like anemia, diabetes, kidney disease, or rheumatoid arthritis. It also ends up being important for doctors to distinguish between leg ulcers due to peripheral circulation problems and those caused by vein disease as this significantly influences approaches to treatment.
A Range of Treatments
The good news for the approximately 6.5 million Americans that suffer from leg ulcers is that there are a number of workable and effective treatments available. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Compression: One of the most common treatments for this condition involves wearing compression stockings or having compression bandages applied. These place extra pressure on the veins in the legs and promote circulation. Alongside dressing and topical treatment of the lesions, this method helps stop the progression of this condition.
- Elevation: Ensuring that patients spend some time every day resting with legs elevated above the level of the hip is another way to promote better circulation. Recommendations may vary, but most need to do this two to three times a day for 30 minutes at time. Through it all, those with the condition should try to get regular exercise.
- Medical Approaches: More severe cases of venous leg ulcers require medical care. Doctors may try to prescribe antibiotics to manage infections in the lesions. Pain managing drugs can also help with symptoms, and the drug, Pentofixylline, is sometimes given to thin blood and make it more mobile.
- Varicose Vein Treatment: If varicose veins present themselves and are implicated in causing the condition, treatments to manage them such as vein stripping or radiofrequency ablation (RFA) can be an excellent means of eradicating this disease. Such treatments are minimally-invasive and are a direct means of taking on problematic regions.
Clearly, patients no longer have to be victims of the condition.
Stepping Forward for the Better
For Sean Dougherty, like many who’ve suffered with leg ulcers, life after treatment was immeasurably better. For the first time in decades, he was looking forward to going on vacation and swimming. He’s more active than he’s been since the 90s; “I don’t feel pain,” he says, adding: “I feel like I’m a miracle.” What helped him—and can help anyone with this painful condition—is that he found good, medical care. It’s worth taking serious steps forward if you think you have the condition.
If you suspect you may be experiencing venous leg ulcers or any other vein or circulation problem, the team at Hamilton Vein Center is ready to help. Employing the latest in techniques and technologies they’ve helped countless patients find real and effective relief. Learn more about what they do by calling their Houston office at (281) 916-5660, the Austin office at (512) 710-1114, or San Antonio at (210) 405-4707 today!
- “New Jersey Health System”. 2018. Rwjbarnabas Health. Accessed April 2 2018. https://www.rwjbh.org/patient-stories/hope-through-healing-seans-story-about-chronic-w/.
- Reeder, S., Maessen-Visch, M., Langendoen, S., de Roos, K. and Neumann, H. (2013). The recalcitrant venous leg ulcer – a never ending story?. Phlebologie, 42(6), pp.332-339.
- “Venous Leg Ulcers. What Are Leg Ulcers? Causes And Symptoms”. 2018. Info. Accessed April 2 2018. https://patient.info/health/varicose-veins-leaflet/venous-leg-ulcers.