Living with a leg ulcer

Managing leg ulcers

A leg ulcer is a long-lasting wound or sore that is slow to heal. This may cause problems like pain, swelling, itching or puffiness of the skin. A leg ulcer usually starts with an injury, often a minor one. 

Venous leg ulcers are caused by an inefficiency of the venous system to return blood back to the heart. This causes symptoms such as oedema (fluid in the tissue), staining of the skin, prominent veins, dry irritating varicose eczema and ulcers to the skin, which can be painful. Often the ulcers become chronic and non-healing due to chronic inflammation, which causes pain, high exudate levels and increased risk of infection. 

Some people are more at risk of developing a venous leg ulcer than others. For example, if you have problems with mobility, have had a previous injury or surgery to your leg, or are overweight. If you are at risk, then even a small knock or scratch can cause a leg ulcer to develop. It is very important to take action to stop a leg ulcer from developing or coming back. 

It is important to make sure that the wound is looked after with the right treatments to help it heal and to stop infection or other problems from developing. Alongside treatments it is also important to bear in mind some helpful tips that could promote the effective healing of your ulcer. Liz Ovens, Tissue Viability Nurse Specialist offers advice on managing venous leg ulcers.

  • Try to keep active by walking regularly. Standing for long periods of time and sitting without elevating your legs can cause swelling and make venous leg ulcers worse.

  • Whenever you’re sitting or lying down, keep your affected leg elevated, with your toes level with your eyes.

  •  Regularly exercise your legs by moving your feet up and down, and rotating them at the ankles. This can help encourage better circulation.

  • If you’re overweight, try to reduce your weight with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

  • If possible stop smoking and moderate your alcohol consumption. This can help the ulcer heal faster.

  • Be careful not to injure your affected leg, and wear comfortable, well- fitting footwear. 

You may also find it helpful to attend a local healthy leg club for support and advice. 

With appropriate treatment, most venous leg ulcers heal within three to four months. Treatment should always be carried out by a healthcare professional trained in compression therapy for leg ulcers. Usually, this will be a practice or district nurse.If you wish to explore advanced treatments for your ulcer, contact your GP or nurse who will be able to advise on which is the most suitable for you. 

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