Stasis dermatitis and ulcers
Venous stasis ulcers; Ulcers - venous; Venous ulcer; Venous insufficiency - stasis dermatitis; Vein - stasis dermatitis
Stasis dermatitis is a change in the skin that results in the pooling of blood in the veins of the lower leg. Ulcers are open sores that can result from untreated stasis dermatitis.
Venous insufficiency is a long-term (chronic) condition in which the veins have problems sending blood from the legs back to the heart. This may be due to damaged valves that are in the veins.
Some people with venous insufficiency develop stasis dermatitis. Blood pools in the veins of the lower leg. Fluid and blood cells leak out of the veins into the skin and other tissues. This may lead to itching and inflammation that cause more skin changes. The skin may then break down to form open sores.
You may have symptoms of venous insufficiency including:
- Dull aching or heaviness in the leg
- Pain that gets worse when you stand or walk
- Swelling in the leg
At first, the skin of the ankles and lower legs may look thin or tissue-like. You may slowly get brown stains on the skin.
The skin may become irritated or crack if you scratch it. It may also become red or swollen, crusted, or weepy.
Over time, some skin changes become permanent:
- Thickening and hardening of the skin on the legs and ankles (lipodermatosclerosis)
- A bumpy or cobblestone appearance of the skin
- Skin turns dark brown
Skin sores (ulcers) may develop (called a venous ulcer or stasis ulcer). These most often form on the inside of the ankle.
Exams and Tests
The diagnosis is primarily based on the way the skin looks. Your health care provider may order tests to examine the blood flow in your legs.
Stasis dermatitis can also be related to heart problems or other conditions that cause leg swelling. Your provider may need to check your general health and order more tests.
Your provider may suggest the following to manage the venous insufficiency that causes stasis dermatitis:
- Use elastic or compression stockings to reduce swelling
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time
- Keep your leg raised when you sit
- Try varicose vein stripping or other surgical procedures
Some skin care treatments can make the problem worse. Talk with your provider before using any lotions, creams, or antibiotic ointments.
Things to avoid:
- Topical antibiotics, such as neomycin
- Drying lotions, such as calamine
- Benzocaine and other products meant to numb the skin
Treatments your provider may suggest include:
- Unna boot (compressive wet dressing, used only when instructed)
- Topical steroid creams or ointments
- Oral antibiotics
- Good nutrition
Stasis dermatitis is often a long-term (chronic) condition. Healing is related to the successful treatment of the cause, factors causing the ulcer, and prevention of complications.
Complications of stasis ulcers include:
- Bacterial skin infections
- Infection of bone
- Permanent scar
- Skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you develop leg swelling or symptoms of stasis dermatitis.
Watch for signs of infection such as:
- Drainage that looks like pus
- Open skin sores (ulcers)
To prevent this condition, control the causes of swelling of the leg, ankle, and foot (peripheral edema).
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Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL. Necrotic and ulcerative skin disorders. In: Fitzpatrick JE, High WA, Kyle WL, eds. Urgent Care Dermatology: Symptom-Based Diagnosis. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 14.
Marks JG, Miller JJ. Ulcers. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 19.
Marston W. Venous ulcers. In: Almeida JI, ed. Atlas of Endovascular Venous Surgery. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 20.
Last reviewed on: 11/10/2020
Reviewed by: Ramin Fathi, MD, FAAD, Director, Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group, Phoenix, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.