Arterial and Venous Ulcers: What’s the Difference

Arterial Ulcers

Venous Ulcers

What Is An Arterial Ulcer?

An arterial ulcer is a type of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which occurs when blood clots form in one or both of your arteries. They are usually caused by high cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and other medical conditions. The most common cause is smoking cigarettes. Other causes include excessive alcohol consumption and obesity.

A DVT is a clot that forms in one of your veins. When it gets blocked, the blood flow to parts of your body becomes impaired. This may lead to pain and swelling at the site where the clot formed. If left untreated, this condition can result in death due to heart attack or stroke.

The symptoms of an arterial ulcer vary from person to person depending on their age, health status and lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise habits. Some of the possible signs of an arterial ulcer include:

Painful throbbing or stabbing pains in your legs, arms, back, chest and face. These may radiate up into your neck and shoulders. You may have difficulty walking. Your leg muscles will feel like they are burning or squeezing.

Swelling of the affected area(s). This swelling may be painful to walk around in.

Skin discoloration in the affected area(s). This may appear as a dark, grayish or bluish discoloration.

A loss of hair or hair thinning in the affected area(s).

A cool and moist skin surface. Your skin may also have a “gripped” feeling to it if you can touch it.

Numbness or tingling sensations in your leg or feet.

A blue appearance to your skin that doesn’t fade when you press on it.

In some cases, there are no symptoms. You may just wake up one day and have a complete blockage in the artery. This will cause a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest.

What Are The Causes Of Arterial Ulcers?

As we’ve mentioned above, the most common cause of arterial ulcers is smoking or being around other people who smoke. Other causes include:

High blood cholesterol.

Diabetes mellitus.


High blood pressure.

High homocysteine (protein).

Overweight and inactive lifestyle.

Age (generally after 50).

Family history of arterial diseases or early heart attacks.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Some drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines.

Smoking and secondhand smoke.

If you have a medical condition that requires certain drugs such as Coumadin or other blood thinners or anticoagulants, it is necessary to follow a strict diet and avoid situations where you may be prone to developing DVTs. Certain activities such as air travel may also increase your risk of heart attacks.

How Are Arterial Ulcers Treated?

There are a variety of methods that may be used to treat arterial ulcers. These include:

Drug therapy. Drugs such as Lovenox are designed to prevent blood clots from forming in your blood vessels. Common painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin can also help.

Lifestyle changes. This will probably consist of quitting smoking and trying to lose weight and become more active.

Surgery. If other measures do not work, your doctor may perform surgery to open up your blocked artery.

Home remedies. Getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and changing your diet can go a long way in helping your arterial ulcer heal faster.

When Is Surgery Needed?

If you have been diagnosed with an arterial ulcer and the above treatments have not worked for you, it is possible that surgery will be necessary.

Sources & references used in this article:

Oral zinc for arterial and venous leg ulcers by EAJ Wilkinson – Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014 –

Managing leg ulcers by MY Sieggreen, JA Maklebust – Nursing, 1996 –

Dressings and topical agents for arterial leg ulcers by EA Nelson, MD Bradley – Cochrane database of systematic …, 2007 –

Topical zinc oxide treatment improves arterial and venous leg ulcers by HE Strömberg, MS Ågren – British Journal of Dermatology, 1984 – Wiley Online Library

Current approaches to venous ulcers and compression by TJ Phillips – Dermatologic surgery, 2001 – Wiley Online Library

Systematic review of topic treatment for venous ulcers by EL Borges, MHL Caliri, VJ Haas – Revista latino-americana de …, 2007 – SciELO Brasil

Dermal pericapillary fibrin in venous disease and venous ulceration by V Falanga, HH Moosa, AJ Nemeth… – Archives of …, 1987 –

Pathophysiology of venous ulcers: surgical implications, review, and update by JA Olivencia – Dermatologic surgery, 1999 – Wiley Online Library