Differences Between Arterial and Venous Ulcers: A Comprehensive Guide

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What is an Arterial Ulcer? 

Scar Tissue wound care ocArterial ulcers are wounds that happen because there isn’t enough blood circulation within the arteries. The job of the artery is to pump oxygen-rich blood from the heart to different parts of the body. But when the flow of blood is interrupted, tissues get damaged and ulcers form.  

What is Atherosclerosis?

The most common cause of arterial ulcers is atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis happens when fatty deposits build up within the walls of the arteries. You may have heard of this phenomenon referred to as “plaque buildup.” Plaque constricts the passages of the arteries and makes it hard for the blood to pass. Consequently, bodily tissues are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, which they need to stave off injury and damage. Once the tissues are weakened they become more vulnerable to damage, wounds, chronic wounds, and ulcers. In this case, even a minor injury, like a small cut or bruise, can become a big problem. Keep in mind, ulcers don’t form right away, they happen when the wound gets worse due to it being chronic or infected. 

What is a Venous Ulcer? 

kennedy ulcer wound careA venous ulcer goes by a few different names, including venous stasis ulcer or venous insufficiency ulcer. Whatever name it goes by, these ulcers are chronic wounds that happen as a result of inadequate blood circulation in the veins. Like many ulcers, they commonly appear in the lower extremities, like the legs or ankles. For diabetics, these wounds (just like arterial ulcers) are especially pesky because of diabetic neuropathy, which affects the way you feel the pain of a wound. Diabetics need to be especially vigilant when it comes to their feet, because neuropathy in the feet coupled with venous ulcers often striking the lower extremities could equal disaster. These ulcers are slow-healing, often recurring and usually causing lots of nagging discomfort. 

Why Does a Venous Ulcer Occur? 

Venous ulcers are a result of venous insufficiency. This happens when the veins of the legs (especially the legs, but can be of any extremity) struggle to effectively return blood to the heart. As a result, the blood pools and causes even more pressure within the veins. Other side effects are inflammation, leaking of fluid drainage, no progression in healing, and tissue damage. 

What’s the Difference Between Arterial Ulcers and Venous Ulcers? 

kennedy ulcer wound care ocNow let’s explore the technical differences between these two types of ulcers. 

Venous Ulcers

  • Cause: Venous ulcers are caused by a venous insufficiency that causes weakness, damage, and pressure in the veins and consequently in the tissue. 
  • Location: This type of ulcer is found everywhere on the body, but especially in the lower legs and around the ankles. This happens because when we stand and walk we’re putting extra pressure on the lower extremities. 
  • Characteristics: Venous ulcers have very specific characteristics. They often have irregular, uneven edges and can be red or yellowish in color. Swelling and inflammation are often found in the tissue that surrounds the ulcer. 
  • Symptoms: Venous ulcers cause swelling, aching pain, and a heavy, uncomfortable feeling at the site of the wound. That said, patients often report that venous ulcer pain is usually quite a bit less severe than pain associated with arterial ulcers.
  • Healing and Recurrence: Venous ulcers are often chronic and difficult to heal. You might even call this type of wound slow to heal. These wounds are also more likely to keep cropping up, especially if it’s not being addressed correctly. 

kennedy ulcer wound care orange countyArterial Ulcers:

  • Cause: Arterial ulcers happen when blood supply is compromised because of a narrowed or blocked artery. The most common reason for this type of ulcer is atherosclerosis.
  • Location: Arterial ulcers are mainly located in the lower extremities. That’s because the feet and legs have a compromised blood supply made worse by standing, walking, and running.
  • Characteristics: These wounds have a comparably deep and defined look. In the case of necrosis, the wound may look a little pale. That said, necrosis is rare. 
  • Symptoms: Patients often report lots of sharp or throbbing pain at the source of the wound. They also experience heightened sensitivity. The pain caused by an arterial wound is said to be worse and more throbbing than a venous wound.
  • Healing: Just like with other ulcerative wounds, arterial ulcers are often chronic and slow healing. That’s because the healing process is interrupted by the constricted blood and arteries, which cause inflammation and get in the way of healing. If these wounds are properly managed by a wound care professional, the chances of healing are much greater.


Wound care specialist Dr. Faried BanimahdIn summary, ulcers are a source of significant concern, particularly for those with diabetes, compromised immune systems, or the elderly. Both venous and arterial ulcers arise due to impaired blood circulation, but each in distinct vessels. Arterial ulcers are a consequence of reduced blood flow in the arteries, while venous ulcers are the result of compromised blood flow in the veins. Diabetic individuals are particularly vulnerable to these wounds, further exacerbated by neuropathy, which diminishes the ability to sense wounds. Each type of ulcer presents specific characteristics and challenges.

Contact Wound Care OC for wound treatment in Orange County, CA

Dr. Faried Banimahd is a board-certified physician specializing in emergency medicine, wound care, and pain management. Our team will work with you to create an individualized treatment plan that meets your needs and unique conditions. Our clinic includes highly trained and experienced physicians, registered nurses, and certified medical staff who work together to provide you with the highest standards of wound care treatments.

To make an appointment

1533 E 4th St,

Santa Ana, CA 92701

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