Stasis dermatitis is a type of eczema. It goes by many names, including venous stasis dermatitis, venous eczema, and gravitational dermatitis. Stasis dermatitis occurs as the result of circulation problems in the lower legs (referred to as chronic venous insufficiency). These problems happen when the valves in the leg veins become weak and leak fluid, allowing blood to pool in the legs.
Daily self-care is crucial — if left untreated, stasis dermatitis can lead to open sores known as venous ulcers. These sores, which form on the lower legs and the tops of the feet, can bleed, ooze, and cause scarring after they’ve healed.
If you or your loved one has recently been diagnosed with stasis dermatitis, two types of daily self-care will become important to manage the condition. The first involves care for any blisters, lesions, or leg ulcers. The second involves caring for your body in such a way that will help prevent future skin irritation and wounds.
Your dermatologist or dermatology expert will work with you to determine the best care plan for your needs. Finding a working care plan may take time, but a MyEczemaTeam member provided some reassurance: “Eventually, you will find what works for you.”
If you have blisters, lesions, leg ulcers, or other visible signs of stasis dermatitis, see your dermatologist immediately. They will give you instructions that will help you treat the condition. Your dermatologist may recommend one of the following methods of daily self-care for stasis dermatitis wounds and lesions.
Part of self-care involves following your doctor’s recommendations and using all treatments they suggest or prescribe as directed. Following their guidance will help you get the most benefit from your treatment.
If you have open wounds that are infected or in danger of becoming so, your dermatologist will likely prescribe a topical antibiotic cream. In some cases, you may also be asked to take an oral antibiotic, to treat or prevent cellulitis.
Topical corticosteroid creams, such as Kenalog (triamcinolone) and hydrocortisone, can help reduce swelling and inflammation of the skin. You may be directed to purchase these over the counter, although your dermatologist may prefer to prescribe stronger creams.
Do whatever is necessary to avoid scratching affected areas of skin, no matter how much they itch. If your itching is severe, try applying a cool compress on the area for 15 minutes, taking an oatmeal bath, or covering the area with petroleum jelly and steroid cream. Scratching ultimately leads to breaks in the skin that can become easily infected.
Your dermatologist can show you how to bandage affected areas so that you cover any wounds and lesions without aggravating your stasis dermatitis. This technique may be as effective as other methods of treatment and does not involve taking any medications or exposing the area to infection. If there is a draining wound, see your doctor for a culture to identify which type of bacteria is growing.
As soon as you are diagnosed with stasis dermatitis, your doctor will likely tell you what you can do to prevent the condition from worsening and to make your itchy, flaky skin get better. Most daily self-care routines involve all or some of the following options. You should talk with your doctor about the cause of the swelling and have your heart and kidneys checked.
Elevating your legs improves blood flow, giving pooled blood a chance to drain from the legs back toward the heart.
Dermatologists recommend elevating your legs by raising them above your heart for at least 15 minutes every two hours, as well as overnight. You can elevate your legs using a pillow or blankets, or you can purchase a special type of bed that raises the legs. Avoid prolonged sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor.
Regular exercise, especially walking, can keep your lower legs strong and stimulate your circulation. Break up long periods of sitting or standing by taking 10 minutes each hour to go for a walk. A brisk walk stimulates your circulation and helps prevent blood and other fluids from pooling in the lower legs.
Talk to your doctor about what other exercise might be appropriate for you and how to develop an exercise routine that will help your stasis dermatitis.
If your health care provider recommends them, wear your compression garments as directed. These garments may be knee socks, stockings, or even compression leggings. The tightness of the compression stocking is measured in millimeters of mercury, so talk to your doctor about what tightness and length would be appropriate for you.
If you have trouble putting on your compression garments or experience pain when wearing them, talk to your dermatologist. Physical therapy can help you learn how to wear them properly. Many people diagnosed with stasis dermatitis find that, after their swelling goes down, wearing the garments is no longer difficult or uncomfortable. One MyEczemaTeam member even wrote, “Compression stockings are helping my stasis dermatitis go away.”
Too much salt may decrease your blood flow, which can make it harder to move pooled blood or fluids in the legs. Track your food to make sure you are meeting your goals, or work with a registered dietician to learn how much sodium you need.
Cotton is less likely than other fabrics to irritate your skin, and loose-fitting clothes will not hamper your circulation.
Make sure you keep your skin moisturized. This step helps prevent itching, which can cause ulceration. It also keeps the skin elastic, making it less likely to become torn or injured. Talk to your dermatologist about the moisturizer or lotion that might work best for you without irritating your skin. When you moisturize your skin, examine it for any cuts or ulcers that can become infected.
Your skin may be especially susceptible to irritation during and after bathing. Don’t rub your skin dry. Instead, pat it dry with the towel before applying moisturizer.
Even soap may irritate your skin. Try using water only or talk to your dermatologist about non-soap alternatives for cleansing.
Having enough water in your body keeps your blood volume up, which helps your circulation and reduces swelling. Talk to your dermatologist about how much water you should drink every day and follow through with their recommendation. Generally, men and women should drink 3.7 liters and 2.7 liters of water daily, respectively.
Struggling to get enough water? Mayo Clinic has some tips to help you increase your water intake.
Try flavoring your water by adding freshly sliced fruit. Cucumber, watermelon, and orange are tasty options in addition to the classic lemon or lime.
If you find yourself needing to chug water to get enough hydration, you may want to consider adding foods with high water content into your diet. Foods with a high water content include melons, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, and many other fruits and vegetables.
If you’re not ready to swear off juice or soda, try alternating these beverages with a glass of water.
Weight loss may be important to treating your stasis dermatitis. You can work with your doctor or other health care providers, like a registered dietitian, to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight can go far toward reducing swelling and helping your circulatory system work better. It is important to closely follow the dietary and exercise regimens you’re given. It may also be helpful to keep a food diary in which you record what you eat and drink (and how much).
Smoking can damage your blood vessels and is a risk factor for stasis dermatitis. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, take the steps you need each day to avoid reaching for a cigarette or other tobacco product.
There are many resources to help support you through your quitting journey, including the Centers for Disease Control's Quit Smoking hub and its page on How to Quit Smoking.
Having high blood pressure can worsen stasis dermatitis. Because of this, your doctor may recommend that you exercise, take medications, or take other preventive measures every day to keep your blood pressure at optimum levels. Talk to your doctor about the use of diuretics to control blood pressure and also get fluid out of your legs.
Make sure you set up regular appointments with your dermatologist and that you attend them. Although it may take some time to figure out the right routine for you to manage your stasis dermatitis, the investment of time and effort can pay off.
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with stasis dermatitis, you might have some questions or find yourself wanting support from others who understand. MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people just like you and is over 34,000 members strong.
What self-care practices have helped you manage your stasis dermatitis? Share your experience in a comment below or post on MyEczemaTeam.