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Stasis Dermatitis

By

Thomas M. Ruenger

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

Last full review/revision Feb 2021
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Stasis dermatitis is inflammation, typically of the skin of the lower legs, caused by chronic edema. Symptoms are itching, scaling, and hyperpigmentation. Ulceration can be a complication. Diagnosis is clinical. Treatment is directed at the causes of edema and preventing ulceration.

General reference

  • 1. Erfurt-Berge C, Geier J, Mahler V: The current spectrum of contact sensitization in patients with chronic leg ulcers or stasis dermatitis: New data from the Information Network of Departments of Dermatology (IVDK). Contact Dermatitis 77(3):151–158, 2017. doi: 10.1111/cod.12763

Symptoms and Signs of Stasis Dermatitis

Manifestations typical of stasis dermatitis include pruritus, ill-defined erythema, scaling, and lichenification, most commonly on the shins. There are also plaques, often weeping and crusted, commonly with bacterial superinfection.

When chronic venous insufficiency is the cause, other manifestations usually include varicose veins, purpura jaune d'ocre (a yellow-brown discoloration due hemosiderin deposits in the dermis), and lipodermatosclerosis (sclerosis of subcutaneous fat caused by panniculitis Panniculitis Panniculitis describes inflammation of the subcutaneous fat that can result from multiple causes. Diagnosis is by clinical evaluation and biopsy. Treatment depends on the cause. (See also Erythema... read more Panniculitis , also called sclerosing panniculitis), giving the lower leg an inverted bowling pin shape with enlargement of the calf and narrowing at the ankle.

Manifestations of Stasis Dermatitis

Diagnosis of Stasis Dermatitis

  • Clinical evaluation

Diagnosis of stasis dermatitis is clinical based on the characteristic appearance of the skin lesions and other signs of chronic leg swelling and venous insufficiency. Consultation with a vascular specialist and testing (such as Doppler ultrasonography) may be needed.

Treatment of Stasis Dermatitis

  • Treatment of the causes of swelling

  • Compression and elevation

  • Treatment of complications (eg, secondary infection, allergic contact dermatitis, ulcers)

In addition, noneroded stasis dermatitis often abates with a midpotency topical corticosteroid (eg, triamcinolone acetonide 0.1% cream or ointment). For an eroded (weeping) lesion, a hydrocolloid dressing may be best.

Ulcers are best treated with compresses and bland dressings (eg, zinc oxide paste); other dressings (eg, hydrocolloids) are also effective (see also Direct wound care Direct wound care Pressure injuries are areas of necrosis and often ulceration (also called pressure ulcers) where soft tissues are compressed between bony prominences and external hard surfaces. They are caused... read more Direct wound care ). Ulcers in ambulatory patients may be healed with an Unna paste boot (zinc gelatin), a less messy zinc gelatin bandage, or a colloid dressing (all are available commercially). Colloid-type dressings used under elastic support are more effective than an Unna paste boot. It may be necessary to change the dressing every 2 or 3 days, but as edema recedes and the ulcer heals, once or twice/week is sufficient. After the ulcer heals, an elastic support should be applied before the patient rises in the morning. Regardless of the dressing used, reduction of edema (usually with compression) is paramount for healing.

Oral antibiotics (eg, cephalosporins, dicloxacillin) are used to treat superimposed cellulitis Cellulitis Cellulitis is acute bacterial infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissue most often caused by streptococci or staphylococci. Symptoms and signs are pain, warmth, rapidly spreading erythema... read more Cellulitis . Topical antibiotics (eg, mupirocin, silver sulfadiazine) are useful for treating erosions and ulcers. When edema and inflammation subside, split-thickness skin grafts may be needed for large ulcers.

Complex or multiple topical drugs or over-the-counter remedies should not be used. The skin in stasis dermatitis is more vulnerable to direct irritants and to potentially sensitizing topical agents (eg, antibiotics; anesthetics; vehicles of topical drugs, especially lanolin or wool alcohols).

Key Points

  • Stasis dermatitis results from chronic edema, most typically on the shins.

  • Signs include erythema, scaling, pruritus, and lichenification and may include weeping erosions and crusting.

  • Complications include secondary infections, ulcers, and contact sensitivities.

  • Elevation and compression are often required.

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