Most people develop stasis dermatitis on their lower legs.
When it begins in the legs, you may notice the following in one or both legs:
- Heaviness or aching when you stand or walk for a long time
- Swelling, often on the inside of the ankle, at the end of the day
- Swelling clears when you sleep, but re-appears during the day
- Varicose veins
- Itchy, dry skin over the varicose veins
- The skin may feel irritated — red, swollen, and sore
Swelling around the ankle is often the first sign of stasis dermatitis. The swelling tends to clear while you sleep — and return during the day. Other early signs are discolored skin and varicose veins.
Stasis dermatitis on the lower leg: Some people develop sores that open and bleed. A dermatologist should examine all sores.
Signs and symptoms as the disease progresses
As the stasis dermatitis progresses, people often notice the following:
- Swelling spreads beyond the ankle to the calf
- Dry, cracked, itchy skin
- Red to violet-colored open sores (medical term: venous ulcer), which can appear on the lower legs and tops of the feet
- Sores leak fluid and scab as they heal
- Sores can cause scars when they heal
- Shiny skin
Treatment and self-care can prevent stasis dermatitis from becoming severe. Severe stasis dermatitis
Left untreated, stasis dermatitis can worsen over the years and cause the following:
- Area feels hard
- The lower part of the calf shrinks, often making the calf look like an upside-down wine bottle
- Skin becomes deeply pigmented
- Redness and scale cover the area, including the top of the foot
- Intensely itchy skin
Other medical conditions can develop where a person has stasis dermatitis. Two common conditions are:
- Contact dermatitis (skin becomes very sensitive to almost everything that touches it, including medicines and ingredients in moisturizers, such as lanolin)
- Cellulitis (a serious infection that extends deep into the skin)
Who gets stasis dermatitis?
Stasis dermatitis is most likely to develop in someone who has the following traits:
Age- Because poor circulation leads to stasis dermatitis, this type of dermatitis usually develops in people who are middle-aged or older. In the United States, stasis dermatitis:
- Tends to develop in people 50 years of age and older
- Rarely occurs before 40 years of age
Gender- Women are slightly more likely to develop stasis dermatitis.
Medical history- Having one or more of the following increases your risk of developing stasis dermatitis:
- Venous insufficiency (your body has trouble returning blood from your legs to your heart, so some blood pools in your legs)
- Varicose veins (or blood relatives who have them)
- High blood pressure
- Previous blood clot, especially a blood clot in a leg like deep vein thrombosis
- Previous injury to the area
- Many pregnancies
- Surgery (to the area or removing a vein from the area)
- A heart condition, such as congestive heart failure (a weakened heart cannot pump blood effectively)
- Kidney failure
- Being very overweight
Lifestyle- Having any of the following also increase your risk of developing stasis dermatitis:
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time, such as at work
- Getting little or no exercise
- Excess body fat
You can reduce your risk
If you get little or no exercise, becoming more active may reduce your risk of developing stasis dermatitis. Exercise can improve your blood flow, help you shed excess body fat, and possibly reduce high blood pressure.
Before beginning any exercise, you should talk with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.
What causes stasis dermatitis?
Poor circulation leads to stasis dermatitis. Because poor circulation most commonly develops in the lower legs and feet, this is the most common area of the body for stasis dermatitis to develop.
If you have stasis dermatitis, an accurate diagnosis and treatment are essential. Treatment can prevent the disease from worsening.
How do dermatologists diagnose stasis dermatitis?
To diagnose this condition, your dermatologist will examine your skin, looking closely at the skin that shows signs of stasis dermatitis. Your dermatologist will also want to know about your medical history.
It is important to mention the following:
- Past blood clot
- Injury to the area
- Heart disease
Medical tests may be necessary to find out exactly why you have poor circulation in the area.
Your dermatologist may refer you to another doctor or recommend one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests
- Doppler ultrasound (to look at how your blood flows)
- Tests to rule out problems with your heart
- Allergy testing (stasis dermatitis increases the risk of developing an allergic reaction on your skin)
If you have stasis dermatitis, your dermatologist will create a treatment plan that addresses your specific needs.
How do dermatologists treat stasis dermatitis?
When treating stasis dermatitis, the goal is to get it under control.
Your treatment plan will include treatment for each of your signs and symptoms, which may include:
Swelling: To reduce the swelling in a lower leg, most patients wear a compression stocking, compression dressing, or Unna boot. Compression can reduce swelling as well as improve your circulation.
Because it is so important to reduce swelling, it helps to elevate your legs throughout the day.
If possible, dermatologists recommend that you elevate your legs above your heart:
- Once every 2 hours for 15 minutes
- While you sleep (keep your legs elevated with pillows)
Inflammation (redness, swelling, and pain): To treat this, most patients apply medicine to the stasis dermatitis. Your dermatologist may prescribe a medicine called a corticosteroid or a topical calcineurin (cal-see-neur-in) inhibitor (TCI).
Infection: If you have an infection, taking an antibiotic or applying an antibiotic to the stasis dermatitis can help clear the infection.
Wounds: You may need to apply a special dressing to the wound to help it heal.
Itch: Taking an antihistamine can help calm an intense itch.
Dry skin: Applying a moisturizer a few times per day can help get rid of the dry skin.
Because stasis dermatitis makes the skin so sensitive, you’ll want to use a moisturizer that is free of:
Good options include petroleum jelly and thick cream that says “fragrance-free” on the label. Your dermatologist may also recommend a moisturizer.
Varicose veins: Sometimes varicose veins — those large blue or purple veins that rise above the skin’s surface — can cause discomfort and pain. In rare cases, they can cause bleeding leg sores.
Removing a troublesome vein can alleviate your discomfort and may reduce bleeding leg sores. If vein removal is recommended, your dermatologist can recommend an appropriate procedure for you. Many procedures are minimally invasive.
About the skin discoloration: Stasis dermatitis can cause the affected skin to turn a brownish color. This discoloration often remains even when the swelling, sores, and other signs clear. If the discoloration bothers you, ask your dermatologist about treatment options that could reduce the discoloration.
What is the outcome for a person who has stasis dermatitis?
You may have stasis dermatitis for life. Many patients are able to manage the disease on their own once they get the stasis dermatitis under control.
Managing the disease often involves:
- Wearing compression stockings
- Elevating your legs as needed
- Following a skincare plan
- Applying medicine when you have a flare
You’ll also need to see your dermatologist for follow-up appointments.
Self-care plays an important role in getting stasis dermatitis under control. It is essential to keep it under control.