Information for patients. Venous leg ulcers. Northern General Hospital

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1 Information for patients Venous leg ulcers Northern General Hospital

2 You have been diagnosed as having a Venous Leg Ulcer. This leaflet explains more about venous leg ulcers and answers some of the most frequently asked questions. If, after reading it, you have any more questions or concerns, you should write them down and discuss them at your next appointment. Where will my hospital appointments take place? Your appointments will usually be at the Sheffield Vascular Institute at the Northern General Hospital. We also run local outpatient clinics at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Rotherham and Barnsley District General. The Sheffield Vascular Institute is one of the largest vascular centres in Europe. We specialise in the treatment of all circulatory conditions affecting the arteries, veins and lymphatics. If you wish to find out more about the Sheffield Vascular Institute then look under the Guide to Services of the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust website ( ). What is a leg ulcer? A leg ulcer is a wound on the lower part of the leg that takes longer than six weeks to heal. It is usually caused by a minor injury that breaks the skin. In most people, such an injury will heal up without difficulty within a week or two. However, if there is an underlying circulation problem then the skin may not heal. Leg ulcers can develop quickly and, if untreated, can last for years. It is important that they are properly diagnosed so that the correct treatment can be given. 1

3 What causes leg ulcers? Leg ulcers are usually due to a problem with your veins (venous) or arteries (arterial). There are less common causes for leg ulcers, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. Normal valves Leaking valves Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart. When your leg muscles move they help squeeze blood back to the heart and the valves in the veins stop the blood from flowing backwards. If these valves leak, blood flows back down the legs and pressure builds up at the ankle. This high pressure causes inflammation of the skin (cellulitis) and causes swelling due to leakage of fluid (pitting oedema). If untreated, this damage can result in the development of a venous ulcer. The leaky valves may be familial (run in the family) or may be due to damage from a previous DVT (deep vein thrombosis). Poor mobility can also cause the same problem if the blood is not pumped out of the leg by the muscles. 2

4 How can my ulcer be treated? The majority of venous ulcers are treated by compression therapy, which improves the blood flow up the leg. This usually requires several layers of bandages around your lower leg and foot. These are changed by your district or practice nurse once or twice a week. If the ulcer is small enough, it may be managed by a compression stocking over a dressing. These are changed by your district or practice nurse once or twice a week, but may need to be changed more often if your ulcers are very leaky. You can safely bathe or shower with your ulcer exposed before having your legs redressed. This also helps to remove any dry skin. You should rest with your legs elevated whenever possible. Try to exercise regularly. If you are unable to walk try moving your feet up and down whilst sitting or lying. Avoid long-distance travel until your ulcer has healed. How long will it take for my ulcer to heal? It has usually taken many years for the venous disease to cause the ulcers, so it is not surprising that the ulcers may take a long time to heal. Although many venous ulcers will heal in 3-4 months, a small proportion can take considerably longer. Ulcers which have been present for months or years are slower to heal, and a stage may be reached where healing is difficult without a period of bed rest in hospital. 3

5 Will I need an operation? If your ulcer is due to varicose veins, then these may be treated when your ulcer has healed to reduce the risk of further ulceration. How can I stop the ulcer from coming back? Once the ulcer has healed, you will need to wear compression stockings to stop the ulcer from returning. The hospital will give you a pair and then your GP will put them on repeat prescription for you. Please keep the box that your stockings came in as it can be used to ensure that you get the correct stockings from your GP. Depending upon the make of the stockings, you will need new pairs every 3 or 6 months. Your specialist will advise you on this. To avoid confusion, when you receive your new stockings please throw your old supplies away. If you required made to measure stockings from the hospital, you will need to attend the outpatient clinic every 6 months so we can arrange your next supply. How do I use the stockings? You should put on the stocking before you get out of bed in a morning and only remove it before going to bed. If you are unable to re-apply the stockings daily they can be left in place overnight and changed every few days or even weekly by a relative or nursing staff. You may also find it useful to get an applicator specially made to help you put the stockings on. This is also available on prescription. 4

6 Compression increases You will usually be given below knee stockings unless the venous damage is very extensive, and then you will need thigh length stockings. Compression stockings are available in 3 strengths: Class 1, 2 and 3. Class 2 is usually sufficient to control the swelling. Open toe stockings can be worn under socks or tights. Closed toe stockings can be worn by themselves like popsocks. There are many different makes of compression stocking - if one kind doesn't suit you, try another. How can I help myself? There are other things which you can do to reduce the risk of the ulcer returning: Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Try to lose weight if you are overweight, as increased weight puts more strain on the veins. 5

7 Exercise regularly, as this helps the calf muscle to pump blood up the veins. If you are unable to walk, try moving your feet up and down while you are sitting or lying. Consider an exercise bike. When sitting, elevate your leg on another chair or on the end of the sofa. Stop smoking; this damages the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your legs and smoking delays the process of wound healing. Wear correctly fitting shoes with a low heel, and elevate you legs whenever possible. Wash and cream your legs regularly, and avoid dry skin which is more easily damaged. Seek immediate medical or nursing advice if you damage your skin. Never try to heal the wound yourself. For futher advice or queries: Vascular Nurse Specialists (0114) The Circulation Foundation: 6

8 Sheffield Teaching Hospitals supports organ donation. Do you? This information can be made available on request in alternative formats including Braille, large print, audio, electronically and other languages. For further details Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Re-use of all or any part of this document is governed by copyright and the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005 SI 2005 No Information on re-use can be obtained from the Information Governance Department, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. PD4735-PIL1352 V2 Issue date: September Review date: September 2012

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