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Stasis dermatitis and ulcers

 

Definition

Stasis dermatitis is a skin condition due to the buildup of fluid (swelling) under the skin.

Alternative Names

Venous stasis ulcers; Ulcers - venous

Causes

The extra fluid that builds up in the body makes it hard for the blood to feed cells and get rid of waste products. The tissue becomes poorly nourished and fragile, resulting in stasis dermatitis. The disorder is common on the ankles because there is less supportive tissue in this area.

Poor circulation in the veins (venous insufficiency) can cause stasis dermatitis and craters (ulcers) in the skin. Varicose veins, congestive heart failure, and other conditions can cause the arms and legs to swell, especially the feet and ankles.

Symptoms
  • Darkening of skin at the ankles or legs
  • Itching
  • Leg pains
  • Open sores, ulcers
  • Skin appears thin, tissue-like
  • Skin irritation of the legs
  • Skin lesion: macule or patch
  • Skin spots, red
  • Swelling of legs, ankles, or other areas
  • Thickening of skin at the ankles or legs
Signs and tests

The diagnosis is primarily based on the appearance of the skin. Your doctor may order tests to examine the blood flow in your legs.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Stasis dermatitis is often a long-term (chronic) condition. You may minimize symptoms by controlling the condition and swelling.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop leg swelling or symptoms of stasis dermatitis. Watch for signs of infection:

  • Drainage that looks like pus
  • Pain
  • Redness
Complications
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Chronic leg ulcers
  • Infection of bone
  • Permanent scar
Treatments

The condition that is causing the problem and swelling must be controlled. Treatments may include:

  • Surgery to correct varicose veins
  • Medications to control heart failure
  • Diuretics to remove excess fluid

Circulation in the area may improve as swelling goes down. Raising the legs above the level of the heart can help reduce the swelling. Gradually increasing gentle activity, such as walking, can improve circulation.

Elastic stockings may be recommended to improve blood flow from the legs, which will reduce swelling.

Treatments for the skin may include wet dressings and topical antibiotics to control infection in open ulcers. Keep the skin area clean.

Prevention

To prevent this condition, control the causes of peripheral edema.


Review Date: 10/11/2008
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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