Stasis dermatitis and ulcers

  • Definition
    • Stasis dermatitis is a change in the skin that occurs when blood collects (pools) in the veins of the lower leg.

  • Alternative Names
    • Venous stasis ulcers; Ulcers - venous; Venous ulcer

  • Causes
    • Venous insufficiency is a long-term (chronic) condition in which the veins have problems sending blood from the legs back to the heart.

      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, which cause more skin changes.

  • Symptoms
    • You may have symptoms of venous insufficiency including:

      • Dull aching or heaviness in the leg
      • Pain that gets worse when you stand
      • 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
      • Dark brown color

      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 doctor may order tests to examine the blood flow in your legs.

      Stasis dermatitis can be related to heart problems, so you may need tests to check your heart function.

  • Treatment
    • You may take the following steps 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 health care provider before using any lotions, creams, or antibiotic ointments.

      Things to avoid:

      • Topical antibiotics, such as neomycin
      • Drying lotions, such as calamine
      • Lanolin
      • Benzocaine and other products meant to numb the skin

      Treatments your health care provider may suggest include:

      • Wet dressings (use only when instructed)
      • Topical steroid creams or ointments
      • Oral antibiotics
  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • Stasis dermatitis is often a long-term (chronic) condition.

  • Possible Complications
      • Bacterial skin infections
      • Chronic leg ulcers
      • Infection of bone
      • Permanent scar
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your health care 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)
      • Pain
      • Redness
  • Prevention
  • References
    • Reider N, Fritsch PO. Other eczematous eruptions. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 13.