Not only are they painful and unsightly, but leg ulcers increase the risk of developing serious health conditions including life-threatening infections. Fortunately, this troublesome condition can be prevented and treated by addressing a common problem: vein valve malfunction.
The importance of valves in venous blood flow To help ensure that venous blood flows from the legs toward the heart, veins contain special valves that only allow one-way movement of blood. Malfunction of these valves leads to a condition known as venous insufficiency. Early signs of venous insufficiency include swelling of the feet and legs, and the development of spider veins and varicose veins.
Left untreated, venous insufficiency can lead to additional complications, including the formation of blood clots. The pressure on skin and soft tissues created by pooling and stagnant blood can also cause the breakdown of the affected vessels and skin recognizable as leg ulcers.
Risk factors for leg ulcer formation
Globally, about 1 percent of the population experiences leg ulcers. The risk increases with age, with about 3 percent of people over age 60 and 5 percent over age 80 having leg ulcers.
In addition to vein valve malfunction, other conditions that impact the health of the skin and soft tissues or alter blood flow further increases the risk of developing leg ulcers. Such conditions include diabetes mellitus, obesity and immobility. While the risk of vein valve malfunction and subsequent leg ulceration is significant for anyone with long-term immobility; even short periods of decreased activity, such as that required to recover from an injury or illness, increase the risk of later leg ulcer formation.
Preventing leg ulcer formation
Anyone with symptoms of venous insufficiency should take steps to prevent leg ulcer formation. Commonly used, easily accessible methods of prevention include regular rest and elevation of the lower legs and the use of compression stockings or bandages. Exercise is another important method for reducing the risk of leg ulcer formation. The working muscles of the lower limbs provide sufficient compression of the veins to effectively pump the blood back toward the heart.
While these may be integral tools in a leg ulcer prevention plan, they may be impractical or insufficient to fully prevent leg ulcer formation in some cases.
Leg ulcer treatment
Just as with prevention of the condition, compression is a mainstay of leg ulcer treatment. Once ulcers have formed, however, it is important to work with a healthcare professional rather than solely self-administering compression therapy. Before using wraps or stockings, the healthcare provider monitors the status of leg ulcers to ensure that no infections have developed. He or she will then apply sterile dressings to keep the wounds clean and to help optimize healing.
Some healthcare professionals provide additional leg ulcer treatments such as radiofrequency ablation and sclerotherapy. The precise leg ulcer treatment plan used with any given patient will reflect both the needs of that individual and the expertise of the healthcare provider.
Choosing your vein treatment specialist
While intended to be informative, this article cannot take the place of professional medical advice. If you have concerns about vein valve malfunction or leg ulcer formation, talk to a healthcare professional in your area.
Consider a visit to Dr. Amish Tilara, M.D. at the Atlanta Vascular and Vein Center in Lawrenceville, GA to learn more about your vascular health needs. The Atlanta Vascular and Vein Center also serves the surrounding Atlanta metro area including Sugar Hill, Winder, Buford, Doraville, Chamblee, Winder, Tucker, Norcross, Lilburn and Duluth. Be sure to ask about the free varicose vein screening and how Dr. Amish Tilara, M.D. can help enhance your vascular health.
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