What are leg ulcers?
Leg ulcer on both legs with macerated skin due to dressings
An ulcer is a chronic break in the surface lining of the body. A leg ulcer, is a chronic break in the skin – usually of the lower leg. They are almost always found just above the ankle, usually on the inside of the leg.
Whereas skin is usually a pink colour, dry and with hairs, an ulcer is usually wet with what looks like “raw meat” as the surface. The ulcer can be covered with yellow or green matter which if it dries can turn black, and if the fluid has been allowed to dry on the surface, a scab can form and cover the ulcer.
Leg ulcers are unfortunately quite common and found more commonly with increasing age. There are quite rare under the age of 30 but become increasingly common at ages older than this.
A leg ulcer can be painful but not always. If bacteria start growing in the ulcer, it can produce a strong odour. Depending on the cause of the ulcer, it might get better or worse with keeping the leg elevated or letting it hanging down.
Sometimes there can be multiple ulcers on the legs and sometimes the ulcers can spread onto the feet. There may be associated skin changes around the ulcer particularly if it is due to venous disease (venous reflux or “hidden varicose veins“).
Nowadays, most leg ulcers should be curable by expert vein clinics and occasionally vascular surgeons or radiologists. Unfortunately, a large majority of patients never get the opportunity of a cure and often consigned to dressings and bandages by “specialist” nurses for the rest of their lives.