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.
Stasis Dermatitis Symptoms
One of the first stasis dermatitis symptoms you may notice is a reddish-brown skin discoloration, especially in the legs or ankles [source: Flugman]. Swelling, scaling, itching, dryness, pain and red spots may soon follow. To treat these symptoms, keep skin from becoming too dry by bathing less frequently, using a mild soap, drying the skin carefully and applying moisturizer [source: Mayo Clinic]. As stasis dermatitis progresses, skin thickens, and sores may break open and ooze excess fluid [source: VisualDXHealth]. Such sores will eventually crust over, but if the condition escalates to this point, you should see a doctor. Severe cases of stasis dermatitis can cause skin and bone infections, leg ulcers, and permanent scarring [source: Berman].
Stasis dermatitis is a chronic condition that needs to be monitored for the rest of your life. Once outward symptoms have disappeared, you must take preventive steps to avoid another outbreak. These can include walking regularly, avoiding standing for a long period of time, elevating legs while sitting or sleeping, wearing compression stockings and moisturizing the legs [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Read on to find out if there's a cure for stasis dermatitis.
Is There a Cure for Stasis Dermatitis?
Stasis dermatitis is a chronic condition, which means it can recur for the rest of your life. Although there's no cure for the disease, there are several steps you can take to keep it from returning frequently.
People with mild cases of stasis dermatitis can usually improve their health with proper care at home. Doctors may instruct patients to wear elastic support hose or knee-high compression stockings during the day because these help control leg swelling [source: VisualDXHealth]. Other steps that can improve the condition include elevating the legs above the heart while sleeping or sitting, applying topical medications to ulcers or itchy skin, taking walks on a regular basis and avoiding standing for long periods of time [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. People who have weeping wounds, or sores that leak discharge, should apply compresses to the area [source: Merck]. If preventive and reactive measures don't improve the condition, you should see a doctor. A doctor may prescribe steroid medications or diuretics to remove excess fluids [source: Berman].
Vibration therapy is used to treat some medical conditions that result from poor circulation. Read on to see if vibration therapy can treat stasis dermatitis.
Vibration Therapy for Stasis Dermatitis
Because stasis dermatitis is caused in part by poor circulation, using devices that vibrate the affected areas may improve blood circulation; however, doctors don't routinely suggest vibration therapy to stasis dermatitis patients. Typically, doctors prescribe medications or advise patients to wear compression stockings and take frequent walks to improve circulation.
Vibration therapy has been shown to have some positive effects on the body, and American astronauts even use it to reduce muscle atrophy in space. They stand on a lightly vibrating plate for up to 20 minutes each day, and the vibrations mimic the minute muscle reactions of daily activities under Earth's gravitational pull. Vibration therapy was even found to prevent bone loss in lab animals [source: Barry]. But so far there's no solid evidence that vibration therapy can provide helpful treatment for people with stasis dermatitis. A 2001 study found that low-frequency vibrations increased blood circulation in patients; however, the study didn't include stasis dermatitis patients [source: Kerschan-Schindl]. Vibration therapy is a relatively new treatment, so ask your doctor if it may benefit your condition.
Although there's no cure for stasis dermatitis, it can be controlled if you take certain preventive steps. To learn more about the disorder, visit the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Stasis Dermatitis." December 7, 2006. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/eczemanet/Stasis_dermatitis.html
- Barry, Patrick. "Good Vibrations." NASA. November 2, 2001. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast02nov_1.htm
- Berman, Kevin. "Stasis Dermatitis and Ulcers." October 11, 2008. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000834.htm
- Flugman, Scott and Richard Clark. "Stasis Dermatitis." eMedicine.com. March 23, 2009. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1084813-overview
- Kerschan-Schindl, K., et al. "Whole-Body Vibration Exercise Leads to Alterations in Muscle Blood Volume." Clinical Physiology 21: 377-382. 2001. http://www.fit-med.pl/dok/muscle-blood-volume.pdf
- Mayo Clinic. "Dermatitis." December 7, 2007. (Accessed 8/6/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dermatitis-eczema/DS00339
- Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. "Stasis Dermatitis." November 2005. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch114/ch114i.html
- VisualDXHealth. "Stasis Dermatitis in Adults." December 22, 2008. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://www.visualdxhealth.com/adult/stasisDermatitis.htm
- WebMD. "Eczema Types." August 28, 2006. (Accessed 8/6/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/eczema_types?page=2
- WebMD. "Understanding Dermatitis: The Basics." November 28, 2008. (Accessed 6/9/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/understanding-dermatitis-basics
- WebMD. "Varicose Veins." February 11, 2008. (Accessed 8/9/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/varicose-veins-topic-overview