Can leg ulcers be cured?

Written by: Professor Mark Whiteley
Published: | Updated: 20/02/2020
Edited by: Emily Lawrenson

Many people are under the assumption that vein problems only affect the elderly, but really, this isn’t always the case. This is definitely true for leg ulcers – most don’t really know what they are – but they can affect both young and old. Professor Mark Whiteley, leading vascular expert and founder of The Whiteley Clinic, explains leg ulcers and how they can be treated with the clinic’s help. The Whiteley Clinic has achieved an 85% cure rate for patients presenting with leg ulcers over the last 12 years.

What is a leg ulcer?

Leg ulcers are found on the lower leg, and are open sores which do not heal over time. They can cause severe pain, which in turn affects the sufferer’s quality of life. The ulcers need constant dressing and cleaning, which is time-consuming, and unpleasant. Leg ulcers can often cause embarrassment because there is a particular smell related to them – sufferers can be affected so much that they even decide to give up work.

Leg ulcers, along with being painful, may also cause itching and swelling. The skin around the ulcer may be discoloured and hardened, and the ulcer may produce discharge.

What causes leg ulcers?

Most leg ulcers are venous leg ulcers, which develop when there is a problem with the circulation in the legs. If pressure in the veins increases, the high pressure means that the blood vessels in the skin become weakened, which means the skin can break. When the skin breaks, an ulcer may begin to form. This can happen after bumping or scratching the leg on something. Because the problem lies in circulation, rather than simply with the skin, the ulcer itself cannot be treated alone. The treatment must also improve circulation in the legs.

Who is at risk from leg ulcers?

Those with a history of venous issues, such as deep vein thrombosis, or varicose veins, are at risk from developing leg ulcers as a direct relation. Those who are overweight or obese experience increased pressure in the leg veins, making them more prone, and while leg ulcers can develop at any age, they are more common in older patients.

What is the best treatment for leg ulcers?

Ulcers are often treated through compression bandaging, and dressing – but once these are removed, the ulcers may recur. This treatment is more temporary, but it is not a full cure for leg ulcers, and confines the patient, as they may find they have to wear compression bandages on and off to combat recurring ulcers.

Most leg ulcers are curable through treatment related to the underlying vein issue – treating the veins with endovenous laser ablation, a minimally invasive surgical technique, mean that many leg ulcers can be effectively cured under local anaesthetic. Endovenous surgery is safe, is less likely to leave scarring, and is less invasive than traditional types of surgery which have long been used to strip the veins. Patients can even be treated on a walk-in, walk-out basis.

Treatment of leg ulcers using The Whiteley Protocol

Specialists at The Whiteley Clinic will always check for the cause of leg ulcers and create a bespoke treatment for the patient, as patients are assessed on a case by case basis. The Whiteley Clinic uses the unique Whiteley Protocol® in the assessment and treatment of many conditions, including leg ulcers. This process is used exclusively by doctors and vascular surgeons who are working or training at The Whiteley Clinic, and it ensures patients receive the same excellent standard of care, no matter who they see at the clinic.

The process is threefold, and first involves our team identifying and correcting the underlying problem, with a range of treatment options available. The clinic makes use of all modern technologies in order to identify and treat venous problems, using different techniques for different venous issues and vein patterns. Thorough tests will first be made on the patient, usually in the form of duplex ultrasound of the veins and arteries, and sometimes accompanied by a photoplethysmography scan (PPG), or other tests such as CT scans, MRIs, or an intravascular ultrasound (IVUS). This allows the venous specialist to explain the problem in depth, and discuss appropriate treatment.

The second stage of The Whiteley Protocol® is to complete treatment and work with the patient to reduce future risks – if any remaining problems related to the long-term damage persist, there is a much greater chance of vein problems occurring in the future.

The final stage involves cosmetic finishing touches after the venous blood flow has been corrected and returned to normal.

The Whiteley Protocol® is internationally recognised as a thorough, optimal treatment for venous problems, and in many cases leg ulcers can be fully cured through the use of the protocol, in patients who have previously been told that their leg ulcers are incurable.

If you are interested in learning more about The Whiteley Clinic and the leg ulcer treatment available, make an appointment with Professor Whiteley.

By Professor Mark Whiteley
Vascular surgery

Professor Mark Whiteley has been at the forefront of varicose veins surgery in the UK for the last 20 years. Mark Whiteley performed:

  • First endovenous surgery for varicose veins in the UK in March 1999
  • First microwave closure of varicose veins in Europe in February 2019
  • First Sononvein (HIFU - High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment in the UK in May 2019

He is a prominent venous surgeon and the founder of the Whiteley Clinic, with several locations across the UK. Professor Whiteley has a special interest in the treatment of varicose veins, thread veins, leg ulcers, and pelvic congestion syndrome.

He is also the founder of The College of Phlebology, an international group for doctors, nurses, vascular scientists and technologists to discuss venous issues and find educational support. In 2013, Professor Whiteley set up the Leg Ulcer Charity, a UK national charity which aims to help patients with finding a cure for their leg ulcers. He has a strong interest in education and currently lectures as a visiting Professor at the University of Surrey. He has also sponsored PhD students and an MD position, and is highly involved with training and support. Professor Whiteley has pioneered several techniques and developed treatments along the course of his surgical career. He was the first surgeon in the UK to perform keyhole surgery for the treatment of varicose veins. His expertise is such that he has been frequently featured in the Tatler Cosmetic Surgery and Beauty Guide, and is a regular interview guest on the BBC. He has written over 100 peer-reviewed research papers and set up the College of Phlebology. 

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