What are Arterial Ulcers?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Arterial ulcers are ulcers which are caused by an insufficient supply of freshly oxygenated blood which leads to slow wound healing and exposes the body to the risk of inflammation in wounds which become chronic instead of resolving. These ulcers are most commonly found in the lower extremities and are especially frequent on the feet in patients who experience them. There are a number of conditions which can cause arterial ulcers and people who are at increased risk of developing them may be given special directions by their doctors so that they can learn to identify such ulcers quickly.

When the arteries are not supplying enough fresh blood, it is hard for wounds to heal. A small cut or scrape can fail to resolve, and skin which is damaged because of jutting bone, poorly fitting shoes, or chafing clothing will not heal. Likewise, if the nails are cut back too far or a nail becomes ingrown, this can also cause a poorly healed injury. Over time, this can develop into an arterial ulcer.

Arterial ulcers are characterized by areas of sunken, pitted tissue which may seep with wound exudate. The surrounding area can be yellow, brown, reddish, gray, or black in color. Since the ulcer often becomes inflamed or infected, it may be reddish, tender to the touch, and swollen. Over time, the ulcer can spread. Arterial ulcers are usually very painful. It is possible to have just one ulcer or multiple ulcers.


Causes for arterial ulcers can include chronic arterial insufficiency, diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Also known as ischemic ulcers, these ulcers are a cause for concern among such patients. They can also appear in seemingly healthy patients since sometimes the signs of arterial obstruction are not readily apparent until the patient starts developing secondary complications like ulcers. In patients who are known to be at risk, prevention includes careful management of the patient's chronic condition, along with promotion of good circulation.

Management of arterial ulcers requires several approaches. In the first place, the ulcer itself must be addressed. This can include giving antibiotics to fight infection, providing patients with analgesia, and cleaning the wound to remove dead tissue. However, treatment will not necessarily promote healing or prevent a recurrence because the underlying cause is still present. Thus, steps must also be taken to improve circulation. This can include wearing specialized garments, prescribing medications, or performing surgery, depending on the nature of the condition which lead to the development of the ulcers.


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Post 3

I've heard that compression bandages are helpful for arterial foot ulcers. Has anyone tried them?

My grandmother is having an issue with her circulation due to high blood pressure and has developed two arterial ulcers on her feet. Her doctor has given her antibiotics and a topical cream to help heal them. But I read online that compression therapy which is basically done by using bandages and applying light pressure on the area of the ulcer helps a lot.

I'm wondering if we should get some for my grandmother. Has anyone used and benefited from them?

Post 2

@ddljohn-- Arterial ulcers and venous ulcers are ulcers of the feet but arterial ulcers happen at the toes whereas venous ulcers happen around the ankle or above. Yes, you would be at risk for both as a diabetes patient.

There are also a few differences in the symptoms of the two. Arterial ulcers are much more painful than venous ulcers. With venous ulcers, it won't hurt much sitting down or walking. But arterial ulcers cause a lot of pain while walking and even pain when laying down and resting.

Some other differences are that there is swelling with venous ulcers but not in arterial. Arterial ulcers cause a feeling of coldness in the area but venous ulcers don't. Also, you can feel a pulse in the feet with venous ulcers but can't with arterial.

In terms of treatment, care and prevention though, the methods are the same in the two.

Post 1

I've recently been diagnosed with diabetes and have had circulation problems in my legs and feet even before the diagnosis. I've always noticed that deeply cut nails or any cut on my feet always takes a really long time to heal even though none has developed into an ulcer yet, thankfully.

My doctor told me to be really careful though and to make sure to visit him if I notice anything out of the ordinary and if healing periods of any cuts and injuries in this area take even longer than they do now. He also mentioned ulcers to me, although I thought he said venous ulcers and not arterial ulcers. I might just be remembering the term wrongly.

Do venous ulcers have anything to do with arterial ulcers? How are they similar or different and am I at risk for both?

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