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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Leg ulcers (venous)

Kōmaoa waewae

A venous leg ulcer is a wound on your leg that takes a long time to heal due to poor blood circulation. It usually develops on the inside of your lower leg, above your ankle.

If you have a wound below your knee that has not healed within a month, you should have it checked by a doctor or nurse.

Symptoms of venous leg ulcers

The most common symptom of a venous leg ulcer is a wound that doesn't heal and is irregularly shaped with dry, hard skin around the outside. Other symptoms include:

Venous leg ulcers are at risk of becoming infected because they're slow to heal. Signs of an infected leg ulcer include:

Causes of venous leg ulcers

Venous leg ulcers develop because of problems with the blood circulation in your leg veins. Valves in your legs help to push blood from your legs and feet back up towards your heart. If these valves become damaged, the blood pools in your leg veins, causing pressure symptoms and skin changes.

Often an ulcer will develop after a minor injury to your leg, and because of blood circulation problems, the wound fails to heal.

You’re more at risk of developing a venous leg ulcer if you:

Diagnosing venous leg ulcers

A venous leg ulcer is usually diagnosed based on what it looks like, how long it has been there, your medical history and other risk factors. Your GP may organise other tests to see if you also have peripheral vascular disease or check your circulation before starting treatment.

Treating venous leg ulcers

Compression therapy with special pressure bandaging is the main treatment for venous ulcers.

Compression therapy applies pressure to your affected leg, which reduces the amount of blood pooling in your veins and helps to redirect the blood flow to your heart. It can help to reduce the swelling and encourages oxygen and nutrients to be delivered the wound, which are critical for healing.

A district nurse who is specifically trained to manage leg ulcers will usually do the treatment.

It usually takes several months of treatment to heal your ulcer.

If your ulcer is not healing, you may be referred to a specialist wound clinic or vascular surgeon.

Self-care and prevention of venous leg ulcers

You can help your ulcer heal and reduce the chance of getting another.

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Page created June 2022.


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Review key: HISKW-128569