There’s enough blood flowing through your body right now to fill a one-gallon milk jug. Every ounce of that blood has a specific job, but what happens when your blood can’t fulfill its life-sustaining purposes due to weak circulation?
Poor blood flow is a common yet dangerous condition that leads to serious health complications. Without proper prevention and medical care, poor circulation can lead to painful arterial ulcers, widespread infection, and even amputation or worse.
What Is an Arterial Ulcer?
Arterial ulcers, also known as arterial wounds, are very painful injuries caused by poor circulation. When nutrient-rich blood can’t flow into lower extremities like the feet and legs, skin and underlying tissues become so deprived of oxygen that they start to deteriorate into open wounds.
Unfortunately, arterial ulcers are extremely uncomfortable and painful. Many patients need to hang their legs out of bed or sleep in a chair to get any relief at night. Arterial wounds are also highly vulnerable to infection and antibiotics are only a ‘Band-Aid’ solution.
In order to truly heal arterial wounds and prevent them in the future, the underlying trigger must be identified. They are often caused by:
- Peripheral vascular disease, which restricts blood vessels
- Chronic vascular insufficiency
- Hardening and thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis)
Where Can Arterial Wounds Be Found On the Body?
Most arterial wounds develop on the lower extremities, including the ankle, lower leg, and foot. They can even be found in between or on the tips of the toes as well as the upper extremities (at the tips of the fingers)!
Since poor circulation also causes decreased sensation in the legs and feet, many patients aren’t aware their ulcers exist until they’ve already become deep and infected. This is especially true for diabetic patients with diabetic foot ulcers.
What Does An Arterial Ulcer Look Like?
Arterial wounds are easy to identify because they develop in a unique “punched out” appearance. These round sores have well-defined margins, with the injured area sitting deeper in the skin than the surrounding border and healthy skin. In fact, arterial ulcers can extend so deep into the skin that they affect underlying tendons.
In addition, arterial wounds present these common characteristics:
- Little to no hair growth in the affected extremity
- Affected extremity with wound feels cold to the touch with discolored skin appearance
- Toenails often turn yellow in color and are deformed in shape
Are Arterial Ulcers Painful?
Overall, arterial wounds and ulcers are painful and dangerous. They are often warm, red, and tender to the touch. They can cause severe leg pain, especially when walking. Sometimes people can get temporary relief from leg pain when legs are dangled over the edge of the bed.
Arterial ulcers can lead to serious complications if left untreated, including tissue death, widespread infection, and the need for amputation.
What is the Difference Between Arterial Ulcers and Venous Ulcers?
Unlike arterial ulcers, which occur when blood can’t travel efficiently through the arteries and into the lower extremities, venous ulcers develop as a result of incompetent veins that bring blood back to the heart.
The veins of the body have one-way valves that prevent back flow of blood. The valves of the veins can become inadequate over time and when they become so, allow back flow of blood back down into the extremity, which can cause swelling of the legs. If the swelling is not address appropriately, over time, the fluid build up causes damage to the tissues of the leg which can result in skin discoloration, pain and heaviness in the legs as well as ulcer formation.
Venous wounds are most commonly found anywhere on the lower extremities below the knee.
Can Arterial Ulcers Be Healed?
When your body is healthy and equipped with optimal healing mechanisms, it is able to react efficiently to injuries. This natural healing process begins within minutes of an injury as blood flows and eventually clots to form a scab.
Once the scab has formed, the immune system fights infection by opening nearby blood vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the wound. This makes it possible for powerful white and red blood cells to prevent infection, combat germs, and support the wound as it heals.
Unfortunately, patients affected by arterial wounds can’t rely on that rapid wound healing system. Instead of watching wounds heal in days to a few weeks, people with arterial ulcers suffer from chronic, non-healing wounds that may take months or years to heal.
The Slow Healing Process With an Arterial Ulcer
Poor circulation restricts your body’s strong wound healing response. An insufficient level of oxygen-rich blood essentially strangles white blood cells and impairs their function. Without white blood cells to ward off bacteria, infection can rapidly take root and spread into your arterial wound.
This problem is amplified by the fact that red blood cells rely upon strong circulation to deliver nutrients to the wound. Blocked arteries in the lower extremities make wounds vulnerable to infection and deficient in the nutrients needed to heal.
While healing arterial wound healing takes a holistic approach, there are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available to help with the management and treatment of arterial ulcers.
Hyperbaric Wound Care Can Help Speed Up Arterial Wound Healing
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a powerful and effective treatment capable of accelerating arterial ulcer healing. It uses the simple power of pure, pressurized oxygen to stimulate your body’s innate healing process and overcome poor circulation.
Oxygen can only make its way through the blood within red blood cells. Since the poor circulation problems associated with arterial wounds slow the movement of red blood cells, vital tissues become deprived of oxygen.
Without enough oxygen, cells struggle to produce the energy they need to block bacteria, synthesize new collagen, or regenerate and repair after injury. This is why arterial wound healing may potentially fail without addition of regular HBOT sessions.
Inhaling the concentrated flow of oxygen provided through regular HBOT treatments makes it possible to overcome oxygen deficiencies and stimulate a more effective healing process. By supporting the body’s natural healing capabilities, HBOT can supercharge your immune system, help build new blood vessels and connective tissue, assist antibiotics in more effectively treating infection and more.
For more help addressing your painful arterial wound and protecting your body from the dangerous consequences of untreated ulcers, make an appointment at R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics today. Our experienced teams specialize in aggressive wound care and HBOT in Texas to help patients regain their health.