iWOC Nursing Foundation Transforming Healthcare, One Person At A Time.

Arterial Ulcers

Arterial ulcers result from a complete or partial blockage in the arteries.  They are almost always caused by atherosclerosis.  In atherosclerosis, cholesterol or other fatty plaques settle in the arteries causing them to narrow and harden.  The result is poor blood circulation. This poor circulation leads to tissue death and ulcer formation. 


  • Trauma

  • Limited joint mobility

  • Increased age

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Renal failure

  • High blood pressure

  • Disorders that affect blood circulation:

    • Restrictions to blood vessels due to peripheral vascular disease

    • Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

    • Atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries, due to the buildup of fatty materials)


Wounds commonly have minimal drainage and are often very painful.  Pain is often relieved dangling legs and increased when legs are elevated.

Care Basics

Although appropriate care of arterial ulcers requires the oversight of a trained health care provider, several things can be done to minimize the risk of developing arterial ulcers and to minimize complications once an ulcer occurs:

  • Examine feet (especially between the toes) and legs daily for any unusual changes in color or the development of ulcers.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking can harden or clog the arteries, leading to improper perfusion to the extremities.

  • Manage blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

  • Ensure that footwear is properly fitted to prevent footwear from rubbing or causing pressure on the feet.

  • Avoid wearing constrictive leg garments i.e. socks, compression wraps, etc.

  • Protect legs and feet from injury and infection.

  • Exercise regularly.


Patients with arterial ulcers must have adequate blood supply to heal.  It is for this reason that debridement (the removal of dead tissue) should not be done until adequate blood flow is confirmed.  A Vascular Surgeon can determine if your blood flow is adequate for healing.

Contact your physician immediately if there are any signs of an infection. An infection can spread to the rest of the body and cause serious problems. Signs of an infected ulcer include:

  • Redness, tenderness, warmth, or selling around the ulcer

  • A foul odor or pus from the ulcer

  • Fever, weakness, and confusion are signs that the infection may have spread to the blood or elsewhere in the body.

This information is for educational purposes, only.  It is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. The iWOC Foundation disclaims any liability for any decisions made based on this information.