What Is Venous Stasis Dermatitis?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on January 20, 2022
3 min read

Venous stasis dermatitis happens when there's a problem with your veins, usually in your lower legs, that keeps blood from moving through very well. As more fluid and pressure build, some of the blood leaks out of your veins and into your skin.

The condition is also called venous eczema or stasis dermatitis. It's more common in people who are 50 or older. Women are more likely to have it than men.

Medical treatments can help, and you can do many things on your own to get the problem under control.

Swelling around your ankles is often the first sign you'll notice. It might get better when you sleep and then come back during the day when you're active again. Your legs might feel heavy when you stand or walk.

Other symptoms can include:

  • The skin around or above your ankles looks reddish, yellowish, or a brown color
  • Varicose veins, which look twisted, bulging, and dark purple or blue
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Sores that ooze, crust, or look scaly
  • Thickened skin around your ankles or shins
  • Hair loss on ankles or shins

The condition often affects people who have circulation problems. When your veins don't work well, they don't return blood back to your heart like they're supposed to.

The veins in your legs have one-way valves that help blood move through. Their job is to push blood up your legs. As you get older or have other health problems, the valves may not work like they should. This is called venous insufficiency.

In some cases this and other conditions can cause pressure to build. Not enough blood and oxygen reach your skin.

Some conditions that make you more likely to get venous stasis dermatitis include:

You also may be more likely to have it if you usually stand or sit for long periods of time or you don't get much exercise.

Because circulation is the main issue, your doctor may suggest surgery to repair your veins. Whether or not that is an option, there are other ways to get the fluid moving in your legs:

  • Wear compression stockings. They ease swelling and improve blood flow.
  • Keep your feet elevated above your heart. When you can, do it for 15 minutes every 2 hours and while you sleep.
  • Don't stand still for too long. Walk around often.

To treat pain, redness, or swelling, your doctor may give you a steroid or other medicine to rub on your ankles and legs. An antihistamine pill or cream might help if your legs are itchy.

You might need to wrap the area with a medicated dressing to help it heal. If you have an infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic pill or cream.

A moisturizer can help with dry skin and keep the area soft. Choose one that has no fragrance, dyes, or perfumes so it doesn't irritate your skin. Petroleum jelly and thick creams can be good options.

A few changes to your daily habits can help you get your venous stasis dermatitis under control and keep it from getting worse.

Take breaks. If your job keeps you sitting or standing for long periods, take time to move. Take a brisk walk for about 10 minutes each hour.

Exercise. Moving makes blood flow better. Ask your doctor how often you should work out and what activities are safe for you.

Wear comfortable clothes. Compression stockings are a good choice for your legs, but choose loose-fitting cotton clothes for the rest of your body. Tight or rough fabrics can irritate your skin and affect circulation.

Take care of your skin. Your skin could get easily irritated. It's a good idea to use only gentle cleansers and soft towels when you bathe, followed quickly by a fragrance-free moisturizer. Avoid cleaning products, perfumes, grass, plants, pet hair, or anything else that bothers your skin.