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What is Venous Stasis Dermatitis? Poor Circulation Skin Rash

Stasis dermatitis is the dark discoloration of the skin, usually a brown pigmentation, due to poor venous drainage in the legs. It is also known as venous eczema. This is usually as a result of poor circulation caused by venous insufficiency, the inability or incompetence of the leg veins to assist with returning circulating blood back to the heart.

How does stasis dermatitis occur?

Causes of Stasis Dermatitis

Properly circulating blood is important for the health of all the body tissues including the skin. When this circulation is impaired, a number of pathologies can arise, like stasis dermatitis. Many circulatory problems of the leg occur as a result of a dysfunction of the veins. Arteries carry oxygenated blood to all parts of the body and the veins return the deoxygenated blood back to the heart and lungs.

Stasis Dermatitis from the Medical Library of Utah

Stasis Dermatitis Picture from the Medical Library of Utah

However, in vein related disorders of the leg (venous insufficiency) blood cannot easily return back to the heart. A common cause of venous insufficiency is when the valves in the leg veins, which prevents back flow of the blood, does not function adequately. Blood pools in the lower limbs thereby hampering healthy circulation. This results in many of the conditions associated with circulatory problems of the leg, like venous ulcers and venous stasis dermatitis.

Other causes of venous insufficiency may not involve the valves of the veins but other disorders affecting the veins. These include deposition of fibrin, an essential component of healing, around the blood vessels. This fibrin may hamper oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange between blood and the tissue of the leg.

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Another condition that may cause stasis dermatitis is abnormal reflexes of the smaller blood vessels of the leg. These blood vessels may constrict over long periods of time hampering the blood flow of the leg. Stasis dermatitis may complicate if the areas is injured and can lead to venous stasis ulcers. Other factors such as a bacterial or fungal infection of the skin at the affected area may further affect healing.

What does stasis dermatitis look like?

Signs & Symptoms of Stasis Dermatitis

Also known as venous stasis dermatitis or bad circulation rash, stasis dermatitis may initially present as red rash of the skin (erythema) of the lower leg and ankle. It is itchy and the skin may be dry and rough. The first skin discoloration may be a red to purple hue which progresses to a brown and black discoloration. Over a period of time, this changes to brown and dark brown discoloration of the skin of the leg. There may be mild scaling or peeling of the skin and swelling at the affected area (edema) increases over time as the condition gets worse. Varicose veins of the leg may also be visible although stasis dermatitis is usually isolated to the ankle. Eventually there may be thickening and hardening of the skin known as lipodermatosclerosis.

How do you treat or manage stasis dermatitis?

Treatment & Management of Stasis Dermatitis

Conservative measures to reduce the incidence of stasis dermatitis include elevating the legs to increase the return of venous blood to the heart and reduce leg swelling. Support hose (elastic compression stockings) helps increase support of the veins of the legs and reduces swelling and pooling of the blood in the legs.

Topical treatment of hydrocortisone and zinc oxide cream may be required for long term stasis dermatitis. An antifungal cream may be necessary for a skin fungus affecting the lesions. In cases of secondary bacterial infection of the dermatitis, an antimicrobial cream and appropriate wound dressing should be utilized, especially if a venous stasis ulcer is present. Oral antibiotics may required in cases of cellulitis.

10 Responses to What is Venous Stasis Dermatitis? Poor Circulation Skin Rash

  • black ankles I need a peel that will take off black marks due to poor circulation in legs

  • could this condition be related or caused by venous inflammation? My sed rate has been extremely high, at 89 3 months ago. It is always very high. this as been going on for years. my feet, ankles and legs are very swollen. PLEASE HELP

  • I have this condition on both lower legs and ankles. cortisone being used for itching and compression hose being worn.

  • I also have the same problem, both my legs are very very darker compare to my foot and my thighs , it was due to bad circulation. Please help I do not know what to do

  • Does this ever clear up so you can return to work? My son has been off work for 10 months w/this condition and the swelling of his legs he can barely walk.

  • can this be due to back problems such as scholosis and spondotheolosis

  • I had Achilles repair surgery 8 weeks ago this coming Tuesday and have had severe swelling in my lower leg since day one, now they gave me compression socks to get the fluid out wore those 3 days yesterday I felt a lot of discomfort went to take sock off and now there are hundreds of little blood spots dr said it was heat rash even though it’s under the skin no itch no pain just scary, I feel like I will never be able to walk without pain again.

  • I have the same thing; stasis dermatitis and was wrongly diagnosed as cellulitis by 2 MD’s!

    I wear knee hi compression socks and they help. But did not wear all summer; as the heat and humidity didn’t help.
    I worked over 30 yrs. in a cafeteria being on my feet about 6 hrs. daily. that and the fact I had surgery on my left ankle that has 2 pins in it and this showed up about 4 yrs. after this surgery, while retired. Any thoughts?

    Any ideas on suppliments to take to improve circulation???
    Many thanks.

  • I’ve got this too, in both lower legs. My quality of life has gone straight to hell (pardon my French). Nothing helps. I mean it: nothing helps. How does one even manage to put on compression stockings when ones skin is oozing, let alone wear them all day? The other day I caught myself thinking calmly about the pros and cons of elective amputation! This is truly horrible.

  • I developed Venus stasis dermatitis about 15 years ago. At the time I weighed 300 lbs, had very high blood pressure, and had been a very heavy smoker ( 3 packs a day ) for about 35 years. All of my jobs had been standing stationary and in more recent years, sitting at a desk. I also had plantar faciitis and a number of other chronic health issues that rendered me virtually immobile. Needless to say, I was pretty miserable. My feet and legs were so swollen I had to wear slippers to work and I got stretch marks on my ankles. Although I used the cream, the itching on my legs was unbearable. I was starting to develop lesions. My doctor told me that there was no cure, I would end up in a wheel chair and would probably lose one or both of my legs. About this time I quit smoking. A year later I had a gastric bypass and lost well over half my weight. My BP dropped to normal. I was able to start walking and enjoy recreation. My symptoms completely disappeared, but my doctor told me that no matter what I did, his prognosis was the same. It’s 13 years later and I’m 64 now, and so far I have had zero symptoms. Don’t know what the future will bring, but I am convinced my weight, BP, smoking, and work history were all contributing factors. I hope this is helpful.

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