Swollen legs and feet can be unsightly and painful, but they're not really harmful, are they? Actually, untreated swollen extremities can result in damaging long-term effects like permanent scarring and even skin ulcers.
People with high blood pressure or poor circulation are at risk of developing stasis dermatitis, a disorder that causes excess fluid to accumulate under the skin, which makes it difficult for blood to feed cells and dispose of waste products. The condition usually causes swelling in the legs, ankles and feet and is commonly seen in older adults. Fluid accumulates because of a combination of high blood pressure and venous insufficiency, a condition in which blood flow through the veins is impaired [source: Flugman]. Molecules, such as fibrinogen, a protein in blood plasma, leak into tissue, and these molecules form a barrier around blood vessels in your skin. This barrier prevents oxygen from reaching tissue cells, which causes cell damage [source: Flugman]. Stasis dermatitis can also cause leg ulcers, skin and bone infections, and permanent scarring [source: Berman].
The risk of developing stasis dermatitis increases as you age, and the disorder is most common in elderly people. The condition occurs in 6 to 7 percent of people age 50 and older, and women are more likely to develop stasis dermatitis than men [source: VisualDXHealth]. The following can also increase your risk of stasis dermatitis:
- Varicose veins
- Blood clots
- High blood pressure
- Venous insufficiency
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Heart or kidney conditions [source: American Academy of Dermatology]
Keep reading to learn about the symptoms of stasis dermatitis.