What are leg ulcers?
Leg ulcers are unhealed wounds or open wounds that occur on the legs. They tend to recur if not treated properly. They can occur in everyone at any age, but are more common among females.
What are the causes of leg ulcers?
The most common reason for the occurrence of leg ulcers is poor blood circulation. However, there are many other causes for the development of leg ulcers. These include:
- Diabetes mellitus
- History of heart disease
- High cholesterol levels
- Kidney disease
- Increased pressure in the legs
- Varicose veins – A condition in which your lower limb veins are swollen and visible. They are frequently associated with leg ulcers.
What are the symptoms of leg ulcers?
The symptoms of leg ulcers vary according to their underlying cause. Usually, leg ulcers are painful but sometimes leg ulcers may present without any pain. The reason for this is the nerve damage caused by poorly controlled diabetes mellitus. The absence of pain is one of the main reasons why patients fail to seek medical treatment.
The common signs and symptoms of leg ulcers include:
- Open sores in the legs
- Discharge of pus from the affected area of the leg
- Pain in the affected area of the leg
- Increasing size of the wound
- Swelling of the affected leg
- Enlarged and visible veins on the affected side of the leg
- Heaviness of the legs
If you are experiencing one or more of the above the symptoms, it is important that you make an appointment with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment will have a good prognosis.
How are leg ulcers diagnosed?
After taking a complete history from you, your doctor will perform a full physical examination along with tests to diagnose your leg ulcers and determine the exact cause of the leg ulcers. Most of the time, your doctor will be able to differentiate a leg ulcer from a regular sore, just by looking at your leg. Doctors may perform one or more of the following tests in order to find the exact cause of the leg ulcer:
- CT scans – These are an imaging investigation that takes a finely detailed cross-sectional image of your leg.
- MRI scans – They use powerful magnetic and radio waves to produce a detailed picture of the affected area of the leg.
- X-rays of your legs – This is often helpful to identify if the wound has reached the bones of your legs.
- Ultrasound scan of the legs – These are non-invasive vascular studies of the leg, using high-frequency sound waves to detect problems in the blood flow within the blood vessels of your legs.
How are leg ulcers treated?
If you have a leg ulcer, it is vital that you get it treated. The treatment aims include relieving the pain, preventing infection and stopping the wound from growing in size. If you have a discharge of pus from the leg ulcer, then you likely have an infection. Infections can be treated with antibiotic therapy to avoid future complications. Be sure to visit a doctor especially in the case of an infection.
The swelling of the leg and the wound can be closed with the use of compression bandages. Compression bandages also help to prevent further infections. Your doctor may also prescribe certain topical medications to be applied over the ulcer to help it heal. Your doctor may also recommend anticoagulant drugs, such as aspirin, to prevent the formation of blood clots in the legs.
What can you do at home to treat a leg ulcer?
Along with the medications that are prescribed, home remedies can be used for a quicker and better recovery. Your doctor may recommend you some home remedies to reduce discomfort and help in the healing process of the leg ulcer.
- Firstly, it is important that you keep your leg ulcer clean to prevent the development of an infection. So wash your wound with soap daily. Also, it is important that you change the compression bandages and dressing at least once a day to keep the affected area of the leg dry. This will promote healing.
- Wear good walking shoes to help you with walking. Wearing proper foot attire also helps to avoid future ulcers.
- Carry out mild to moderate intensity exercises regularly. This will help to improve the blood flow to your legs and thus hasten the healing process.
- While you rest at home or lie down on the bed, keep your legs elevated to prevent the legs from swelling.
Do not use any other drugs without asking your doctor as some of these drugs may interfere and aggravate the leg ulcers.
How can you prevent leg ulcers?
As poor circulation is the main culprit for leg ulcers, you can prevent future ulcers by controlling the diseases that may give rise to poor circulation. These conditions include:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Raynaud’s disease
Make sure you take all the medications as prescribed by your doctor and continue to have an appropriate diet to control the above diseases.
In addition to controlling the diseases, it is important that you maintain a healthy diet and carry out regular exercises to reduce your weight or to maintain the weight in a healthy range. These will help to reduce the risk of leg ulcers. You can do this by:
- Using fresh foods instead of packaged ones
- Reading nutrition labels and choosing products with low sodium content, which is especially important for hypertensive patients.
- Quit smoking as smoking also increases your risk of developing leg ulcers
Prognosis of leg ulcers
If leg ulcers are diagnosed early and treatment is started, the condition has a really good prognosis. But if it is not treated properly, your leg ulcer can get worse and become infected. The leg ulcer may even increase in size and sometimes the infection can spread down to the bone. In such cases, the leg may have to be amputated if the infection cannot be controlled. Therefore, make sure to consult your doctor as early as possible before such complex complications arise.