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Diagnosis - Venous leg ulcer

See your GP if you think you have a venous leg ulcer. The ulcer is unlikely to heal without specialist treatment.

Diagnosis is largely based on your symptoms and examination of your affected leg. Sometimes more tests may be needed.

Medical history and examination

Your GP or practice nurse will ask if you have any other symptoms associated with venous leg ulcers, such as:

  • swelling in your ankles
  • discoloured or hard skin

Your GP or practice nurse will try to find the cause of the ulcer by asking about underlying conditions or previous injuries, such as:

  • diabetes
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • injury or surgery in the affected leg
  • a previous leg ulcer

They'll also examine your leg, both when you're standing up and lying down for:

  • varicose veins
  • discoloured or hard skin
  • pulses at your ankles
  • ankle swelling

Varicose veins will be more obvious when you're standing up. It'll be easier to look at the ulcer when you're lying down.

If the GP or practice nurse is happy with your circulation they may start treatment with compression bandaging or compression stockings straight away.

Doppler study

If the practice nurse or GP is not happy that they can feel pulses in your foot, they may need to carry out a Doppler study to check the circulation before they start treatment. You may need to have the test done in your local hospital.

Read about treatment for venous leg ulcers

Referral to a specialist

In some cases, your GP may refer you to a specialist in conditions affecting the blood vessels. They're known as a vascular specialist.

You may be referred to a vascular specialist if your GP or nurse:

  • is unsure about your diagnosis
  • suspect your ulcer may be caused by artery diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
  • think you need surgery for your varicose veins

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 23 March 2021
Next review due: 23 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.