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Foot Sores and Ulcers That Won’t Heal

If you have foot sores that won’t heal, we want you to know these may be signs of an underlying health condition. While only a medical professional can accurately determine what is going on, one potential cause of foot sores that won’t heal is peripheral artery disease (PAD).

PAD is a common, yet serious, disease that can impact your ability to walk, climb stairs, and fully participate in daily activities. It can also cause a range of painful symptoms and place you at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and limb amputation.

At USA Vascular Centers, we specialize in treating PAD ulcers and other symptoms of peripheral artery disease. We believe that personalized treatment by our expert vascular specialists can help you regain your mobility and daily routine.

What Are Arterial Ulcers?

An arterial ulcer is an ulcer (an open, non-healing sore) that develops due to inadequate blood supply to the area. Most commonly, the legs, ankles, and feet are affected.

Arterial Foot Ulcers

Arterial foot ulcers are open sores that are slow to heal or keep returning on the lower legs and feet. They are often found between or on the tips of the toes, on the heels, on the outer ankle, or where there is pressure from walking or footwear. If you believe that you have arterial ulcers, we recommend visiting a vascular specialist.

What Do Foot or Toe Ulcers Look Like?

Foot and toe ulcers can take any shape, but they’ll commonly look like a wedge or crater. They can range in color and either be yellow, red, pink, or gray. If an ulcer turns black, this means that the tissue has died (gangrene). Peripheral artery disease can cause gangrene, so if you notice a black ulcer on your foot or toe, seek emergency medical care to prevent further damage.  

PAD ulcers can start small but grow larger if it goes untreated. Before the ulcer develops, some patients notice their skin is dry, cracked, scaly, or red. Several classification systems exist to help define the severity of ulcers, and the Wagner Diabetic Foot Ulcer Grade Classification System is one of them. This system has six grades to help diagnose foot ulcers:

  • Grade 0: Undamaged, intact skin with no ulcers present
  • Grade 1: Ulcer is superficial and may resemble an open sore with broken skin and a skin-deep wound
  • Grade 2: The ulcer progresses to more of a deep, crater-like configuration
  • Grade 3: The ulcer is deep enough that the bones of your toes or feet are visible
  • Grade 4: The front of the foot is gangrenous, meaning a significant portion of the foot is composed of dead tissue
  • Grade 5: The whole foot is gangrenous and must be amputated to save the patient’s life

foot ulcer and arterial ulcer

In addition to the descriptions outlined in these grades, you may notice drainage in your socks or brown discoloration on your foot, often accompanied by a foul odor. PAD ulcers can also resemble a callus or develop a callus on or near them.

In short, if you have PAD or diabetes, it’s important to check your feet daily for potential signs of an ulcer. By catching them early, your medical provider can help mitigate the damage they cause. 

How Does Peripheral Artery Disease Cause Arterial Ulcers?

Peripheral artery disease can develop when excess fats and cholesterol circulate in the blood. These substances can begin to build up on the walls of the arteries, forming plaque. This plaque can lead to a narrowing or complete blockage. When the blocked arteries involved are responsible for delivering blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your lower extremities, you may develop PAD symptoms like leg pain, cramping, and fatigue.

Although PAD symptoms affecting mobility are most common, there are other issues to look out for, too. When blood is unable to reach your legs and feet, you may notice problems like regional numbness, coldness, poor hair or nail growth, and skin discoloration. Over time, areas of the skin can become inflamed, break open, and form PAD ulcers.

Arterial Foot Ulcers vs. Diabetic Foot Ulcers: How Are They Different?

We want you to understand that having foot sores that don’t heal doesn’t necessarily mean that you have PAD. Several underlying health conditions can also cause decreased healing in the feet, including diabetes.

Individuals with diabetes can develop diabetic foot ulcers, which are different from arterial ulcers. This type of ulcer usually occurs due to neuropathy (nerve damage), which can desensitize feeling in the foot. According to Dermatology Advisor, diabetic foot ulcers tend to develop on the bottom of the foot, most commonly on the first metatarsal joint or the heel of the foot. They are not always painful; in some cases, patients are completely unaware that open wounds are present.

Arterial foot ulcers develop due to poor circulation from peripheral artery disease. Although arterial insufficiency ulcers can appear anywhere on the lower extremities, they most commonly occur on the toes, heels, and ankles. They are usually painful and can be yellow, brown, gray, or black.

It is important to know that diabetes is a known risk factor for peripheral artery disease. Diabetic foot ulcers can be further complicated by the presence of vascular disease. If you have diabetes, we suggest working closely with your doctor to properly manage it. This may also help reduce your risk of developing vascular disease.

How to Treat Non-Healing Foot Ulcers Caused by PAD

If you have painful PAD ulcers on your feet, it is important to keep them clean, dry, and covered. We also want you to know that there’s help available. PAD treatment can alleviate painful symptoms, including foot sores that won’t heal.

At USA Vascular Centers, we work one-on-one with our patients to develop a personalized treatment program. As part of your care, our skilled vascular specialists may recommend lifestyle modifications, medications, and special procedures. All of our PAD treatments aim to restore proper blood circulation, improve your quality of life, and reduce your risks of developing dangerous complications.

Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Today

When it comes to your vascular health, the most important thing to know is that there’s no need to suffer from PAD ulcers or other symptoms of peripheral artery disease any longer. Our vascular specialists offer PAD treatment to help treat your symptoms and provide steps for you to maintain your health.

We have over 40 state-of-the-art vascular treatment centers across the country, and we offer convenient virtual visits (telemedicine). Get started on your path to recovery today by scheduling an appointment online.

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