Varicose eczema, also known as ‘gravitational eczema’ or ‘stasis eczema’, is a common skin condition that affects the lower legs of adults. If left untreated, the skin can break down to form ulcers, which are then difficult to heal. Here’s some information on what causes varicose eczema and how it can be treated in the early stages to prevent ulcers from developing.
Who gets varicose eczema?
Varicose eczema is usually seen in middle‐aged or older people, but it can occur from the teenage years onwards. You are most likely to develop this type of eczema if you have high blood pressure or varicose veins, or have had a deep vein thrombosis, phlebitis or cellulitis in the past. Varicose eczema is more common in women than in men since female hormones and pregnancy increase the risk of developing the condition.
What causes varicose eczema?
Because humans walk upright, the pressure of the blood in the veins is greater in the lower legs than anywhere else in the body when you stand up.
In active adults, the return of blood to the heart through the leg veins is usually good because muscle activity helps to push blood along. But as we get older and less active, the blood moves less well up our veins and can collect in the lower legs.
If the leg vein walls are weak, they cannot withstand high pressure in them and varicose veins develop, appearing as dark blue, wiggly, raised bulges on the surface of the legs. If someone in your family has varicose veins, the chances of you developing them are higher. If you are overweight or pregnant, your chances are increased even further. If you spend a lot of time standing up or sitting with your legs in one position (lack of mobility), the tendency to develop varicose veins is greater still.
How can varicose eczema be prevented?
There are a number of things you can do yourself to prevent varicose eczema from occurring/reoccurring:
- Look after your legs – extra care and attention to your legs is needed for the rest of your life.
- Lose weight if necessary.
- Varicose veins can be treated, so consult your doctor if you think you have them. Although unfortunately, in some regions, varicose vein surgery or laser treatment is not available on the NHS.
- If you have varicose veins, your leg veins should be supported at all times. For mild cases, which require low‐strength compression, elastic support stockings or tights, available from most pharmacies, are adequate. For more severe varicose veins, compression hosiery is made to measure and can be prescribed by your doctor or nurse.
- If you have a venous ulcer, you will need compression bandages, which will be applied by a nurse, when your leg ulcer is dressed.
- Always put any compression hosiery on before you get out of bed in the morning before any fluid can build up in your ankles.
- Try not to stand still for a long time. If you have to, then frequently flex your feet or bend down at the knees. This will help to keep blood moving in the veins. Sitting is better than standing still, especially if you can sit with your feet up.
- Exercise is important – a brisk walk twice a day or walking up stairs, can make your leg muscles work and help push blood through their veins.