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Types of Skin Ulcers

By Amber Kelsey ; Updated July 27, 2017

Skin ulcers are painful, open sores or wounds that keep returning or don’t heal properly. Skin ulcers can be caused by various events, but are mainly triggered by poor circulation. Skin ulcers are often accompanied by the sloughing-off of inflamed tissue. A skin ulcer is generally defined by its appearance, location and the look of the surrounding skin. There are various types of skin ulcers. Read on to learn more about the four most common kinds.

Venous Ulcers

A venous ulcer is a shallow wound caused by venous insufficiency, or poor circulation from the legs back to the heart. The slowed circulation causes fluid to back up in the vein and then seep out into the surrounding tissues. The tissues break down and cause painful ulcers to form. The base of a venous ulcer is typically red and covered with a yellow film. These sores often weep clear fluid, but might ooze yellow or green discharge if the ulcer is infected. Venous ulcers, also called stasis leg ulcers, typically develop on the sides of the lower leg.

Arterial Ulcers

Arterial ulcers, also referred to as lower extremity ulcers, typically occur in patients who are suffering from artery disease. This type of skin ulcer is typically located on the feet, toes and toenails, where the poorly functioning arteries have trouble circulating blood properly. The base of an arterial ulcer has a brown, yellow, black or gray color, while the surrounding skin often looks red and swollen. Arterial skin ulcers are usually painful, and the pain can be far worse at night.

Neuropathic Ulcers

Neuropathic ulcers are primarily found in diabetic individuals who have suffered from nerve damage in the feet. These skin ulcers typically develop at the pressure points on the bottom of the foot and are caused by sustained high pressure. The base of a neuropathic ulcer varies according to the patient's circulation, but it usually appears a pinkish-red or a brownish-black color. The surrounding skin is frequently calloused. Diabetics can reduce the chance of developing neuropathic ulcers by wearing shoes that fit properly and examining their feet for sores on a regular basis.

Pressure Ulcers

Pressure ulcers, commonly called bed sores, are wounded areas of skin caused by staying in the same position for long periods. The non-movement cuts off circulation, and the lack of adequate blood flow kills the tissue in that area. These skin ulcers are commonly found where the bones are close to the skin, such as the heels, ankles, elbows, hips and back. Individuals who are bound to a wheelchair often develop bed sores on their buttocks. Pressure ulcers can cause serious infections.


All types of skin ulcers generally benefit from topical wound care therapies, compression garments or bandages and the use of antibiotics if an infection is present. The most effective treatment for venous skin ulcers is the frequent elevation of the legs above the level of the heart. Infected venous ulcers sometimes require vein surgery or skin grafting. Patients with severe arterial ulcers might need bypass surgery or endovascular therapy to restore circulation to the legs and feet.

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