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Skin Ulcers: A Comprehensive Guide to Skin Ulcer Treatment, Types, and Causes

A skin ulcer is an open, crater-shaped wound on your skin. If a skin ulcer is left untreated, it can develop into a more serious issue. Keep reading to find out everything about skin ulcers, including skin ulcer treatment, home remedies for ulcers, and what to do with untreated bedsores and sores that won’t heal. 

A skin ulcer is a sore shaped like a crater that appears on the skin. Essentially, skin ulcers are open wounds on your skin that haven’t healed properly. You can get a skin ulcer from an injury, poor blood circulation, or continuous pressure on the area. The most common area for skin ulcers to develop is on the legs. It’s estimated that three out of 1,000 people have active leg ulcers. 

Skin ulcers can also show up on your back, hips, and feet. Skin ulcers are most common in older people. Skin ulcer treatment, symptoms, and recovery will depend on the specific cause of your skin ulcer.

Some skin ulcers are painful, but not all are. Someone with a skin ulcer may have a swollen leg and feel an itching or burning sensation. 

Additional possible symptoms of skin ulcers include:

  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Brown, discolored skin
  • Dry, scaly skin 
  • Scabbing
  • Swelling of the skin near the ulcer
  • Pain or tenderness near the skin ulcer
  • Bloody, clear, or pus-filled discharge from the ulcer
  • Hair loss near the skin ulcer
  • A bad smell from the area around the ulcer 

The most frequent types of foot and leg ulcers include:

  • Arterial (ischemic ulcers)
  • Neurotrophic (diabetic)
  • Venous stasis ulcers 

Skin ulcers are usually defined by the ulcer’s location, appearance, and how the skin around the ulcer looks.

Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores or pressure sores, are injuries to the skin and underlying tissues. This type of skin ulcers is predominantly caused by extended pressure on the skin. Bedsores can happen to anyone but are most common in people confined to a bed or who sit in a chair or wheelchair for long periods of time. 

Because some of these people have restricted mobility, they might not be aware that they have pressure ulcers. This can cause the pressure ulcers to become untreated bedsores. Untreated bedsores can break open and become infected or extend into the muscle and bone. If they get this bad, untreated bedsores can take a very long time to heal.

Skin ulcers can be caused by trauma, infection, or inflammation. Some skin ulcers are caused by cancer. Leg ulcers, in particular, can be caused by certain medical conditions, including:

  • Poor circulation, commonly caused by arteriosclerosis (a condition that causes the walls of the arteries to thicken and harden)
  • Clotting and blood circulation issues that may or may not be related to arteriosclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney failure (also known as renal failure)
  • Hypertension (both treated and untreated)
  • Venous insufficiency (a failure of the valves in the veins of the legs that causes slowing and congestion of blood circulation)
  • Lymphedema (a condition that causes a buildup of fluid, resulting in the swelling of the feet or legs)
  • Certain inflammatory diseases such as lupus, scleroderma, vasculitis, and other rheumatological conditions
  • Smoking and a history of smoking 
  • Pressure caused by lying in one position for too long
  • Genetics (ulcers can be hereditary)
  • Tumors and cancerous masses
  • Infections
  • Some medications
  • Other medical conditions including heart disease, sickle cell anemia, bowel disorders, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure 

The goal of skin ulcer treatment is to relieve pain, speed up recovery, and heal the wound. Each person’s treatment plan will depend on their health, any medical conditions, and their ability to care for the wound. 

Some common skin ulcer treatments include:

  • Antibiotics to treat any infections 
  • Topical wound care therapies such as oils, creams, sprays, and emulsions
  • Anti-clotting or antiplatelet medications to prevent blood clots
  • Compression garments around the ulcer skin
  • Orthotics or prosthetics that help restore or enhance normal lifestyle activities 

Sores that won’t heal even after initial treatment will require follow-up visits to your health care provider. 

Foot and leg ulcers

It is possible to use a home remedy for ulcers. Since skin sores are most commonly found on the legs and feet, treatment for skin ulcers often begins with skin and foot care. It’s important to examine your skin and feet often, especially if you have diabetes. Detecting skin ulcers early can help prevent infections and stop the skin sores from getting worse. 

If you have a foot or leg ulcer, it’s essential to wash the affected area around the ulcer every day with lukewarm water and mild soap. By cleaning the area, you loosen and remove dead skin, drainage, and debris from the infected area. After washing, make sure to dry all the areas thoroughly, including between the toes. Avoid rubbing your skin too much. 

Inspect your legs and feet every day. Specifically, look for signs of scratches, cracks, cuts, blisters, and other sores. Also watch out for redness, ingrown toenails, corns, increased warmth in the area, or calluses. If necessary, use a mirror to inspect the entire area or ask a loved one to help you look. 

Once or twice a day, apply a cream to your legs and the soles and tops of your feet. Make sure it’s a lanolin-based cream, which helps prevent dryness and cracking skin. Don’t apply the lotion to areas where there is an open sore or cut. Additionally, don’t apply lotion between your toes. If your skin is extremely dry, use a moisturizing cream more often. 

Lastly, it’s important to take care of your toenails frequently. Your toenails are softest after a bath or shower, and this is the best time to cut them. Try to cut your toenails straight across and then smooth them with a nail file. 

If you have diabetes and skin ulcers, see your podiatrist regularly. Additionally, if you have corns, calluses, or other foot problems, don’t try to treat these conditions yourself. A podiatrist can provide you with proper treatment. 

Don’t assume a minor foot or skin problem doesn’t need attention. Start a home remedy for ulcers immediately and consult with your health care provider about the next steps. 

Home remedies for ulcer and wound treatment

Your health care provider will give you specific instructions on how to care for your wounds at home. These instructions may include:

  • Always keep the area around the skin ulcer clean and dry.
  • Change the wound’s dressing as instructed.
  • Take any medications that are prescribed.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Follow a healthy, balanced diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly, as directed by your health care provider. 
  • Wear appropriate footwear. 
  • Wear compression wraps if instructed to do so. 

Avoiding certain risk factors can help prevent skin ulcers from developing or getting worse. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of developing skin ulcers:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage your blood pressure.
  • Control your cholesterol and triglyceride levels with dietary changes and take any prescribed medications. 
  • Limit your sodium intake. 
  • Manage diabetes and other health conditions (if applicable). Engage in regular exercise, such as walking, with approval from your health care provider.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Ask your health care provider if aspirin therapy is necessary to prevent blood clots.

If you have sores that haven’t healed within two to three weeks, it’s time to seek medical help. At this point, you probably have a skin ulcer. Early treatment of sores can reduce the risk of infection and other problems, so being vigilant is essential. 

Skin ulcers are quite common, especially on the legs and feet. If you address them quickly, skin ulcers can be treated at home with a proper home remedy. However, if left untreated, they can develop into a severe infection or a more serious problem. For example, untreated bedsores can develop deeper into the muscle and bone. Learning how to look for and treat skin ulcers is essential for recovery.


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