Also known as gravitaional or stasis eczema, this type of eczema is common in later life, particulary in women but can occur from the teenage years onwards.
If you have poor circulation, have had a blood clot in your legs, have varicose veins, have had phlebitis or cellulitis in the past or are overweight you are at risk of developing varicose eczema.
What causes Varicose Eczema?
Because humans walk upright, the pressure of the blood in the veins is greater in the lower legs than anywhere else in the body when you stand up.
In active adults, the return of blood to the heart through the leg veins is usually good because muscle activity helps to push blood along. But as we get older and less active, the blood moves less well up our veins and can collect in the lower legs.
If the leg vein walls are weak, they cannot withstand high pressure in them and varicose veins develop. If someone in your family has varicose veins, the chances of you developing them are higher. If you are overweight or pregnant, your chances are increased even further. If you spend a lot of time standing up or sitting with your legs in one position (lack of mobility), the tendency to develop varicose veins is greater still.
Other conditions, such as a blood clot in the leg vein (thrombosis) which can occur during a period of inactivity, or inflammation of the vein wall (phlebitis), can weaken the leg veins and also damage the valves which direct the flow of blood through them. Cellulitis (infection in the skin) can also weaken the veins and lymph vessels, causing the venous system to function less efficiently. All these conditions also make the leg veins less able to contain the pressure of blood in them, causing problems, sometimes years later.
If the vein walls are weakened and the blood moves sluggishly up the leg veins, fluid can pool in the lower legs and ooze through the vein walls into the surrounding space, causing the ankles to swell. Fluid may then leak through the very small vessels, causing red‐brown speckled spots to appear on the skin which becomes hot and itchy – tiny blisters can also appear, usually just above the inside of the ankle. Over time, if left untreated, the skin can develop eczema, with red, itchy spots, dryness and flaking. The skin may also change in colour and become weepy with some skin crusting.
When the eczema settles, this skin may later crack if it becomes over‐dry, or break down if scratched or picked. The skin on the lower leg generally becomes fragile.
What causes a varicose ulcer ?
A leg ulcer is a small hole in the skin which can deepen and widen and become very sore. It can easily become infected and can be difficult to heal especially in those with poor circulation. Skin affected by varicose eczema is thin and unhealthy and can easily break down – as soon as this happens, the area should be treated to help the skin heal quickly.
If left untreated, the small hole can deepen and widen, and the resulting wound is called a ‘varicose ulcer’ (also known as a ‘venous ulcer’ or ‘stasis ulcer’). Sometimes events can occur the other way round – varicose eczema can develop for the first time around an existing ulcer or wound on the lower leg, but treatment remains the same.
What to do next? Find out about treatment
You can find out about the range of treatment options for different types of eczema in our comprehensive Treatment area of the website. You can also find our more about varicose eczema , including a number of things you can easily do yourself to prevent varicose eczema from occurring, by downloading a pdf of our varicose eczema fact sheet. You will find this under related documents to the right of this page.