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Stasis Dermatitis


Thomas M. Ruenger

, MD, PhD, Georg-August University of Göttingen, Germany

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2023
Topic Resources

Stasis dermatitis is inflammation of the skin of the lower legs resulting from the pooling of blood and fluid.

Stasis dermatitis usually occurs on the shins but can also affect other areas that are prone to swelling such as the arms after radiation therapy to the lymph nodes.

Symptoms of Stasis Dermatitis

At first, the skin is itchy, red, scaly, and thickened, usually on the shins.

Eventually, areas of the skin may break down and form an open sore (ulcer). Ulcers sometimes become infected with bacteria, causing cellulitis Cellulitis Cellulitis is a spreading bacterial infection of the skin and the tissues immediately beneath the skin. This infection is most often caused by streptococci or staphylococci. Redness, pain, and... read more Cellulitis (a bacterial infection of the skin), and are usually painful.

When chronic venous insufficiency is the cause, the skin can turn yellow-brown, varicose veins Varicose Veins Varicose veins are abnormally enlarged superficial veins in the legs. Varicose veins may cause your legs to ache, itch, and feel tired. Doctors can detect varicose veins by examining the skin... read more Varicose Veins (dilated, twisted veins) usually develop, and the skin may become hard, thick, painful, and tender. This complication is called lipodermatosclerosis. Lipodermatosclerosis gives the lower leg an inverted bowling pin shape with enlargement of the calf and narrowing at the ankle.

Diagnosis of Stasis Dermatitis

  • The appearance of the skin and presence of chronic venous insufficiency

  • Possibly ultrasonography

Sometimes more extensive evaluation and imaging tests (such as ultrasonography) are needed.

Treatment of Stasis Dermatitis

  • Measures to prevent blood from pooling in the legs

  • Measures to relieve dermatitis

  • For ulcers, special dressings or an Unna paste boot

  • For infection, antibiotics

The cause of the chronic swelling is treated.

Treatment of chronic venous insufficiency

When sitting, the person should elevate the legs above the level of the heart.

Properly fitted prescription support stockings (compression stockings) also prevent pooling of blood and decrease swelling. Department store "support" stockings are not usually adequate.

Treatment of dermatitis

For dermatitis that has started recently, and if there are no ulcers, a corticosteroid cream or ointment applied to the affected areas can help. If the disorder worsens, as evidenced by increased warmth, redness, oozing, or small ulcers, a more absorbent dressing, such as a hydrocolloid dressing, can be used.

In stasis dermatitis, the skin is easily irritated. Antibiotic creams, first-aid (anesthetic) creams, wool alcohols, witch hazel, lanolin, or other chemicals should not be used because they can make the disorder worse.

Treatment of ulcers

Ulcers are best treated with compresses and dressings made with zinc oxide paste. Special moisture-absorbing hydrocolloid or hydrogel dressings also may be used.

Some people may need an Unna paste boot, which is a woven stretch wrap filled with a gelatin paste that contains zinc. The wrap is applied to the ankle and lower leg where it hardens, similar to but softer than a cast. The boot limits swelling and helps protect the skin from irritation, and the paste helps heal the skin. At first the boot is changed every 2 or 3 days, but later it is changed only once or twice a week. After the ulcer heals, an elastic support should be applied before the person rises in the morning. Regardless of the dressing used, reduction of swelling (usually with compression) is essential for healing.

Antibiotics applied to the skin are useful for treating some open or irritated areas of skin and ulcers. Antibiotics given by mouth are used to treat cellulitis.

Sometimes, skin from elsewhere on the body may be grafted to cover very large ulcers.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
LanaShield, Soothe & Cool
Aquaphor 3 IN 1 Diaper Rash, Aquaphor Baby Fast Relief Diaper Rash, Aquaphor Fast Relief Diaper Rash, Balmex, Boudreaux Butt Paste, Boudreauxs Rask, Carlesta, Coppertone, COZIMA, DermacinRx Zinctral, Desitin, Desitin Maximum Strength, Desitin Rapid Relief, Diaper Rash , Dr. Smith Adult Barrier, Dr. Smith's, Dr. Smith's Diaper Rash, Dr. Smith's Rash + Skin, DynaShield, Eucerin Baby Sunscreen Sensitive Mineral , Eucerin Sunscreen Sensitive Mineral, Flanders Buttocks , Medi-Paste, Novana Protect, PanOxyl AM, Triple Paste, Triple Paste Adult Incontinence, Z-Bum
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