Trophic Ulcers: Symptoms, Causes, Who Is At Risk, And How To Prevent Them

March 20, 2018

Have you heard about trophic ulcers? These are skin defects that usually appear on the foot or leg below the knee and heal poorly. They start as small ulcers on the skin and then grow wider and deeper if left untreated.

You are more likely to develop a trophic ulcer if you have a problem with blood circulation in your legs, such as varicose veins or peripheral artery disease. Trophic ulcers are notoriously difficult to treat, and they may even lead to amputation in extreme cases.

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What are the symptoms of trophic ulcer?

Trophic ulcers manifest as lesions (most commonly affecting the lower part of the leg) that don't heal and may ooze blood and/or pus. They may occur in the absence of any external trauma.

Before an ulcer develops, the following symptoms may be present:

  • swelling and heaviness in the lower leg and foot;
  • leg or foot pain;
  • leg cramps, especially at night;
  • itching and/or burning in the leg or foot;
  • changes in skin color on the affected area;
  • skin in the affected area gets thicker and may look tight and shiny.

What causes trophic ulcers?

Trophic ulcers are commonly caused by poor blood circulation in the legs and feet.

Causes of trophic ulcers and factors that can contribute to their development include the following:

  • varicose veins;
  • deep vein thrombosis;
  • atherosclerosis;
  • peripheral artery disease;
  • high blood pressure;
  • diabetes;
  • lymphedema (swelling due to a blockage in the lymphatic system);
  • vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels);
  • localized or systemic infections;
  • frostbite;
  • burns.

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Who is at a higher risk of developing a trophic ulcer?

Some people are more likely than others to develop a trophic ulcer. Here's what can increase the risk:

  • impaired arterial or venous circulation in the legs;
  • having a condition which damages the nerves (e.g. diabetic neuropathy);
  • prolonged bed rest (may lead to bedsores);
  • exposure to high doses of radiation;
  • using illicit drugs.

Is there a way to prevent trophic ulcers?

Trophic ulcers may require a prolonged treatment course, so it's best to take steps to prevent them in the first place. Here's what you can do:

  • if you have a condition that puts you at a higher risk of developing a trophic ulcer, take proper steps to manage it;
  • check your feet (especially the soles) and legs often if you have nerve damage and/or poor blood circulation;
  • wear comfortable shoes;
  • maintain proper foot hygiene;
  • massage your feet and legs to improve circulation;
  • keep your feet and legs warm in cold months;
  • stay as physically active as you can.

Source: PubMed, ILiveOk,

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This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.