Venous Ulcers And Sickle Cell Disease: What You Need To Know


Venous ulcers are a common health problem. They have many causes, including obesity, diabetes and hypertension. One cause of leg ulcers that is not often discussed is sickle cell disease. Because leg ulcers are common in people who have sickle cell disease, learning about them can be an important step in your healthcare. If you're dealing with the effects of sickle cell, here's what you need to know about leg ulcers.

How Common is Sickle Cell Disease?

Up to 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease, and many more carry the gene that could allow them to pass it on to their children. There are different types of sickle cell disease, or SCD, but all of them are usually diagnosed shortly after birth during routine newborn exams. All of the types of SCD can result in health problems and venous ulcers.

How does SCD Cause Venous Ulcers?

Unlike other types of venous ulcers, venous insufficiency is not the main cause of these sores for people with sickle cell disease. In people with venous insufficiency, the valves located along their veins stop working correctly, allowing blood to pool underneath the skin. For people with SCD, however, the main cause of venous ulcers is thought to be related to a condition called anteriovenous shunting. That means that the veins closest to your skin are blocked or narrowed by the SCD, decreasing oxygen and nutrients available to your skin. Combined with an increased vulnerability to infection, this can be a recipe for an ulcer.

What Should be Done about Venous Ulcers?

Venous ulcers are sometimes difficult to treat, especially if you wait to address the problem. They can be painful, and they leave you open to infections, including gangrene. If you notice symptoms of a venous ulcer, like dark red or purple spots around your shin or ankle, see your doctor right away. Early treatment is the best way to keep the ulcers from spreading or taking too long to heal.

Treatment for venous ulcers in people with SCD are the same as treatment for people without this condition. Your doctor's treatment plans may include:

  • Antibiotics, to prevent or treat infection
  • Lifestyle changes, like adding in some gentle exercise, and improving your diet
  • Elevating the legs above the level of the heart as often as possible
  • Bandages
  • Compression stockings
  • Debridement, or the removal of damaged tissue
  • Topical application of medicines that help replace damaged tissues
  • Surgical treatment of damaged veins
  • Skin graft

When caught early, venous ulcers often heal nicely within a few months with proper treatment. Waiting can cost you a lot of money and pain, and it can even result in the amputation of your leg. 

What can be done to Prevent Venous Ulcers?

People with severe forms of SCD are often discouraged from very vigorous exercise. If that's the case for you, ask your doctor if walking is more appropriate. Many people with SCD are able to begin exercise regimens when they are careful to do so under their doctor's guidance, and walking is a great way to increase blood flow to your legs, thus preventing ulcers.

You can also protect your lower legs and ankles from injury, since injuries in people with SCD can sometimes lead to ulcers, especially in the shins and ankles. Wear shin guards during activities like soccer or kickball. Another important thing to keep in mind is to avoid the lower legs as a site for blood draws when at all possible. 

For many people, a diagnosis of SCD doesn't necessarily mean a poor quality of life. Taking care to prevent and treat venous ulcers is especially important for people with SCD, and will lead to a more pain and worry free life.


6 October 2014

Getting a Chemical Peel

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been a daddy’s girl. Now that my father is getting older, I’m starting to worry more about his health. Because he worked outdoors for decades, I was happy when my dad recently started to visit a dermatologist. This medical professional discovered that my dear dad had several skin cancers on his face. This individual removed my father’s skin cancers by burning and freezing them. He also recommended that my father undergo a chemical peel in order to prevent some of the cancers on his face from returning. On this blog, you will discover the health benefits of getting a chemical peel on your face. Enjoy!