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Articles  |  Conditions  |   Leg Ulcers: What You Need to Know

Leg Ulcers: What You Need to Know

Leg Ulcers: What You Need to Know
Leg ulcers are a common problem experienced by older individuals. Usually found on the lower legs and ankles, they are distinctive sunken wounds. Except in cases of those caused by pressure sores (bed sores), the cause of leg ulcers is internal rather than external. Here's what you need to know about leg ulcers.

What Causes Leg Ulcers?

The short answer is, "poor circulation," but that's not the whole story. The reason why these ulcers occur in the lower legs and ankles is usually due to inactivity of the calf muscles, which in active individuals act as a pump for recirculating blood. Researchers believe that ulcers appear in areas where there is a build-up of white blood cells in narrow capillaries. The immune system then responds by destroying nearby skin tissue.

While age is a major leg ulcer risk factor, there are other factors as well that we have some control over. Some of these include:
  • Smoking: Smoking constricts blood vessels and can make a person more susceptible to leg ulcers.
  • Diabetes.
  • Arthritis.
  • Arterial diseases.
  • Varicose veins.
  • Some cardiovascular medications.

Identifying Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers have distinctive characteristics that distinguish them from other types of wounds:
  • They are wide depressions.
  • The surrounding skin is inflamed and may be hardened or calloused.
  • Yellowish-white pus is present inside the wound.
  • Pain is felt when standing.

Natural Treatments for Leg Ulcers

Leg ulcers should be first treated like other wounds. The ulcers should be cleansed first. After applying an antibacterial ointment, a dry dressing should be applied and changed at least once a week. Leg ulcers have been shown to heal faster if they are covered, so they should not be left exposed. Some other standard treatments for leg ulcers include:
  • Compression: The foot and lower leg is wrapped in elasticised bandages or a tight stocking is worn. This helps reduce oedema  (swelling) and improve circulation.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements may help if they are deficient. Zinc, vitamin C and iron are particularly important.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment (breathing pure, pressurised oxygen) is now accepted as an effective treatment for leg ulcers and is often used when other treatments are not effective.
The best natural treatments for leg ulcers are an improved diet, regular exercise ( a 30 minute daily walk is recommended) and avoiding sitting still for extended periods of time. A naturopath, herbalist or homoeopath may also be able to recommend herbal treatments to improve circulation. Since poor circulation is the ultimate culprit, any natural therapy or activity that improves circulation will also probably aid in the treatment of leg ulcers and reduce the risk of their recurrence.
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