What Is Stasis Dermatitis?
Stasis dermatitis is skin inflammation that develops in people
with poor circulation. It most often occurs in the lower legs because that’s
where blood typically collects.
When blood collects or pools in the veins of your lower legs, the
pressure on the veins increases. The increased pressure damages your
capillaries, which are very small blood vessels. This allows proteins to leak
into your tissues. This leakage leads to a buildup of blood cells, fluid, and
proteins, which causes your legs to swell. This swelling is called peripheral edema.
People with stasis dermatitis usually experience swollen legs and
feet, open sores, or itchy and reddish skin. A protein called fibrinogen may be
responsible for the changes you see in your skin. When fibrinogen leaks into
your tissues, your body converts it to the active form of the protein, which is
called fibrin. As it leaks out, the fibrin surrounds your capillaries, forming
what are known as fibrin cuffs. According to the Cleveland
Clinic, these fibrin cuffs may prevent oxygen from entering your tissues.
When your cells don’t receive enough oxygen, they can become damaged and die.
What Are the Risk Factors for Stasis
Stasis dermatitis affects people with poor circulation. It’s
common among adults over the age of 50. Women are more likely to get it than
A number of diseases and conditions can increase your risk for
developing stasis dermatitis, including:
- high blood pressure
- venous insufficiency, which occurs when your
veins have difficulty sending blood from your legs to your heart
- varicose veins, which are swollen and enlarged
veins that are visible under your skin
heart failure, which occurs when your heart doesn’t pump blood efficiently
- kidney failure,
which occurs when your kidneys can’t remove toxins from your blood
- injury to your lower legs
- numerous pregnancies
- a deep vein thrombosis in your leg, which is a
blood clot in your leg vein
Your lifestyle can also affect your risk. You may be at a higher
risk of getting stasis dermatitis if you’re very overweight, don’t get enough
exercise, or if you sit or stand without moving for long periods of time.
Common Causes of Stasis Dermatitis
Poor circulation causes stasis dermatitis. Typically, poor
circulation is the result of a chronic, or long-term, condition called venous
insufficiency. Venous insufficiency occurs when your veins have trouble sending
blood to your heart. There are one-way valves inside your leg veins that keep your
blood flowing in the right direction, which is toward your heart. In people
with venous insufficiency, these valves become weak. This allows blood to flow
back toward the feet and pool in your legs instead of continuing to flow toward
your heart. This pooling of blood is what causes stasis dermatitis.
heart failure are also known causes of leg swelling and stasis dermatitis.
Most of the conditions that cause stasis dermatitis usually
develop in people as they get older. However, there are also several causes
that are unrelated to age, including:
- surgery, such as using a leg vein for bypass
- deep vein thrombosis in your leg
- traumatic injury to your lower legs
Symptoms of Stasis Dermatitis
The symptoms of stasis dermatitis include:
- skin discoloration
You may also experience symptoms of venous insufficiency,
- leg swelling
- calf pain
- calf tenderness
- a dull ache or heaviness in your legs that gets
worse when you stand
In the early stages of stasis dermatitis, the skin on your legs
may look thin. Your skin may also itch, but try not to scratch it. Scratching can
cause the skin to crack and fluid to seep out.
Over time, these changes can become permanent. Your skin may eventually
thicken, harden, or turn dark brown. This is called lipodermatosclerosis. It
may also look lumpy. In the final stages of stasis dermatitis, your skin breaks
down and an ulcer, or sore, forms. Ulcers from stasis dermatitis usually form
on the inside of your ankle.
When to See Your Doctor
You should see your doctor if you notice leg swelling or any
symptoms of stasis dermatitis, especially if the symptoms include:
- open wounds or ulcers
- pus-like drainage
How Is Stasis Dermatitis Diagnosed?
To diagnose stasis dermatitis, your doctor will closely examine the
skin on your legs. Your doctor may also order a venous Doppler ultrasound. This
is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to check the blood flow in your
How Is Stasis Dermatitis Treated?
There are several things you can do at home to treat stasis
dermatitis. You should:
- avoid standing and sitting for long periods of
- prop up your feet when sitting
- wear compression stockings
- wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid irritating
Ask your doctor about the types of skin creams and ointments you
can use. You should avoid using the following products:
- calamine and other lotions that dry your skin
- topical antibiotic ointments such a neomycin
- benzocaine and other numbing medications
Your doctor might tell you to put wet bandages on your skin and
might prescribe topical steroid creams and ointments. Your doctor may also
prescribe antibiotics if your skin becomes infected. Surgery may be recommended
to correct varicose veins if they become painful.
Treating conditions that cause venous insufficiency, such as high
blood pressure and congestive heart failure, can also help control your stasis
What Are the Possible Long-Term Complications
of Untreated Symptoms?
If it’s left untreated, stasis dermatitis can result in:
- chronic leg ulcers
- osteomyelitis, which is a bone infection
- a bacterial skin infection, such as abscesses or
- permanent scarring
How Can Stasis Dermatitis Be Prevented?
Stasis dermatitis is usually the result of a chronic illness, such
as congestive heart failure, so it’s difficult to prevent if you’re already
ill. However, you can reduce your risk by preventing the swelling in your legs,
or peripheral edema, that causes it. You can also lower your risk by
exercising. Exercise is a great way to improve your circulation and reduce your
body fat. Limiting the amount of sodium you consume can also help.