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Foot Ulcers

A foot ulcer is an open sore or lesion located on the foot that either won’t heal or heals and then repeatedly returns. Some foot ulcers are shallow and don’t reach past the surface layer of skin, while others can penetrate all the way down to the bone. It’s important to promptly seek treatment for ulcers, since they can worsen and eventually require amputation if left untreated.

Causes of Foot Ulcers

Foot ulcers generally develop when the skin and tissues within the feet break down and then become infected. These ulcers are generally categorized into the following three types:

  • Neurotropic (diabetic) ulcers – Although these ulcers primarily affect people with diabetes, they can occur in anyone with a loss of sensation in their feet. They can develop anywhere on the foot but are generally located at pressure points along the bottom of the foot.
  • Arterial (ischemic) ulcers – These ulcers affect individuals with poor circulation. They often develop on the tips of the toes, in between the toes, on the heels or on bony protrusions.
  • Venous ulcers – These ulcers typically affect individuals who have a history of leg swelling, blood clots within the leg veins or varicose veins. They usually develop on the lower portion of the leg, between the ankle and the knee.

Symptoms of Foot Ulcers

Foot ulcers can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • A burning sensation
  • A rash
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Skin discoloration

Individuals with nerve damage or poor circulation should be especially mindful of visual cues, since they may not be able to feel some of these symptoms.

Diagnosing Foot Ulcers

Once a physician has performed a physical examination, he or she may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
  • Noninvasive vascular studies
  • Nuclear bone scans
  • X-rays

Treatment for Foot Ulcers

Treatment will depend on various factors, including the cause and severity of the foot ulcer. The team of specialists at Tampa General Hospital may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Medication such as antibiotics or anti-clotting medication
  • Wound care
  • Compression
  • Solutions using orthotic devices
  • Endovascular therapy
  • Surgery