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Dermatitis, Stasis
Joseph A. Florence, MD
Fereshteh Gerayli, MD, FAAFP
image BASICS
  • Chronic, eczematous, erythema, scaling, and noninflammatory edema of the lower extremities accompanied by cycle of scratching, excoriations, weeping, crusting, and inflammation in patients with chronic venous insufficiency, due to impaired circulation and other factors (nutritional edema)
  • Clinical skin manifestation of chronic venous insufficiency usually appears late in the disease.
  • May present as a solitary lesion
  • System(s) affected: skin/exocrine
  • Synonym(s): gravitational eczema; varicose eczema; venous dermatitis
In the United States: common in patients age >50 years; annual incidence of varicose vein 2-2.6%
  • Prevalence of varicose vein is 7% (5-30%) and symptomatic chronic venous insufficiency is 0.86%
  • Predominant age: adult, geriatric
  • Predominant sex: female > male
Geriatric Considerations
  • Common in this age group:
    • Estimated to affect 15 to 20 million patients age >50 years in the United States
  • Incompetence of perforating veins causing blood to backflow to the superficial venous system leading to venous hypertension (HTN) and cutaneous inflammation
  • Deposition of fibrin around capillaries
  • Microvascular abnormalities
  • Ischemia
  • Continuous presence of edema in ankles, usually present because of venous valve incompetency (varicose veins)
  • Weakness of venous walls in lower extremities
  • Trauma to edematous, ischemic skin
  • Itch may be caused by inflammatory mediators (from mast cells, monocytes, macrophages, or neutrophils) liberated in the microcirculation and endothelium.
  • Abnormal leukocyte-endothelium interaction is proposed to be a major factor.
  • A cascade of biochemical events leads to ulceration.
Familial link probable
  • Previous deep venous thrombosis
  • Chronic edema (due to CHF, pulmonary HTN, obstructive sleep apnea; cirrhosis, nephrotic syndrome, or medication)
  • Previous pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Atopy
  • Superimposed itch scratch cycle
  • Trauma
  • Genetic propensity
  • Prolonged medical illness
  • Secondary infection
  • Low-protein diet
  • Old age
  • Tight garments that constrict the thigh
  • Vein stripping
  • Vein harvesting for coronary artery bypass graft surgery
  • Previous cellulitis
  • Use compression stockings to avoid recurrence of edema and to mobilize the interstitial lymphatic fluid from the region of stasis dermatitis and also following DVT.
  • Topical lubricants twice a day to prevent fissuring and itching
  • Varicose veins
  • Venous insufficiency
  • Other eczematous disease
  • Hyperhomocysteinemia
  • Venous HTN
  • Most diseases that worsen peripheral edema (e.g. CHF, diastolic dysfunction)
  • Evaluation of the lower extremities characteristically reveals:
    • Bilateral, pitting edema (4,5)
    • Typically with erythema, hyperpigmentation— more common in the lower 1/3 of the extremity and medially (4,5)
  • Violaceous (sometimes brown), erythematous-colored lesions due to deoxygenation of venous blood (postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and hemosiderin deposition within the cutaneous tissue)
    • Serous drainage, weeping, crusting, inflammation of the skin
    • Superficial desquamation (4)
    • May present as a solitary lesion mimicking a neoplasm (6)
  • Cellulitis or erysipelas
  • Trauma-related inflammation
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Nonspecific dermatitis
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Vasculitis
  • Basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma
  • Lipodermatosclerosis
  • Lymphedema
  • Eosinophilic cellulitis
  • Other eczematous diseases
Initial Tests (lab, imaging)
  • Blood tests usually not indicated unless cellulitis and/or sepsis are suspected. Leukocytosis is more likely with true cellulitis (3).
  • If stasis dermatitis is secondary to venous thrombosis, a thorough hematologic workup may be indicated to rule out hypercoagulability states.
  • Duplex ultrasound imaging may diagnose deep venous thrombosis or severe valve damage secondary to past thrombosis.
  • Potentially more accurate gold standards (e.g., skin biopsy) would introduce considerable risk to study patients and would not be acceptable from an ethical standpoint (3)
Diagnostic Procedures/Other
  • Rule out arterial insufficiency (check peripheral pulses); ankle brachial pressure index (ABPI or ABI).
  • Check for diabetes.
Test Interpretation
  • ABPI <0.8 is suggestive of arterial insufficiency.
  • ABPI can be falsely elevated in diabetic patients and others with distal small vessel calcifications.
  • Arterial duplex ultrasound and angiography are the gold standards.
  • Primary role of treatment is to reverse effects of venous HTN.
  • Typically outpatient:
    • Reduce edema:
      • Leg elevation: heels higher than knees; knees higher than hips
      • Compression therapy: elastic bandage wraps: ace bandages or Unna paste boot (zinc gelatin) or compression stockings (Jobst or nonfitted type) (7)[A]
      • Graduated elastic compression of 30 to 40 mm Hg at the ankle improves ulcer healing rate and may prevent ulcer recurrence (7)[A].
      • No specific type of topical dressing (hydrocolloid versus simple nonadherent dressing) superior to another when used with compression therapy to maintain moist wound environment. Multilayer or bilayer compression bandages— more effective than nonelastic or short stretch bandages for severe cases (7)[A].
      • High compression is contraindicated in arterial insufficiency; pneumatic compression devices (7)[A].
    • Treat infection: Debride the ulcer base of necrotic tissue.
  • Activity:
    • Avoid standing still.
    • Stay active and exercise regularly.
    • Elevate foot of bed unless contraindicated.
  • Inpatient, for endovascular radiofrequency ablation, vein stripping, sclerotherapy, or skin grafts; treatment of advanced cellulitis or venous ulcers
    • Venous ulcer treatment includes autolytic, biologic, chemical, mechanical, and surgical.
First Line
  • Topical moisturizers, emollients, and barrier creams (e.g., white petroleum, lanolin, etc.) aid with

    antipruritic treatment via reducing transepidermal water loss (8)[B].
  • No evidence for routine use of systemic or topical antibiotics unless clear evidence of infection (9)[A]
  • Uncomplicated stasis dermatitis can be treated with short courses of topical steroids (8,10[B]. (Topical triamcinolone 0.1% cream/ointment TID or betamethasone valerate 0.1% cream/ointment/solution TID) (10)[B].
  • Topical antipruritic: pramoxine, camphor, menthol, and doxepin 5% cream (8)[B]
  • Antipruritic medications (e.g., diphenhydramine, cetirizine hydrochloride, desloratadine) (8)[B]
  • Pentoxifylline (400 mg TID) is effective in treating venous leg ulcer and may be effective in the absence of compression (11)[A].
  • Enteric-coated aspirin (at least 300 mg) daily improves venous ulcer healing (12)[B].
  • In light of increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics, current guidelines recommend the use of antibacterial preparations only for clinical infection (cellulitis, increased pain, warmth, malodorous exudate) not for bacterial colonization (9)[A].
  • Current evidence does not support the routine use of honey or silver-based products (9)[A].
  • There is no reliable evidence in the effectiveness of topical preparations such as povidone-iodine, peroxide based preparations, mupirocin, chlorhexidine (9)[A].
  • Insufficient evidence exists to either support or refute the routine use of silver sulfadiazine (SSD) for ambulatory patients with either partial-thickness burns or stasis dermatitis ulcers to decrease mortality, prevent infection, or augment wound healing (9)[A].
  • If secondary infection, treat with PO antibiotics for Staphylococcus or Streptococcus organisms (e.g., dicloxacillin 250 mg QID, levofloxacin 500 mg QID, clindamycin 300 mg QID, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole DS BID (3)[B].
Second Line
Consider antibiotics on basis of culture results of exudate from infected ulcer craters.
  • Consider referral for nonhealing ulcer.
  • Arterial insufficiency
  • Uncertain diagnosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Patch testing to evaluate for contact dermatitis
  • Associated disease (e.g., symptomatic varicose veins)
If the patient is on amlodipine therapy, consider discontinuing amlodipine (13)[B].
Sclerotherapy and surgery may be required for associated disease.
Patient Monitoring
  • If Unna boot compression is used: Cut off and reapply boot once a week. Unna boots reduce edema by compression and prevent scratching.
  • Regular use of high compression stockings reduces chance of recurrent venous ulcer (14)[A].
lose weight, if overweight.
  • Encourage staying active to keep circulation and leg muscles in good condition. Walking is ideal.
  • Keep legs elevated while sitting or lying.
  • Do not wear girdles, garters, or pantyhose with tight elastic tops.
  • Do not scratch.
  • Avoid leg injury.
  • Elevate foot of bed with 2- to 4-inch blocks.
  • Apply compression stockings prior to getting out of bed when less edema is present. Regular use of high compression stockings may prevent recurrence of venous ulcers.
  • Chronic course with intermittent exacerbations and remissions
  • The healing process for ulceration is often prolonged and may take months.
1. Beauregard S, Gilchrest BA. A survey of skin problems and skin care regimens in the elderly. Arch Dermatol. 1987;123(12):1638-1643.
2. Duque M, Yosipovitch G, Chan YH, et al. Itch, pain, and burning sensation are common symptoms in mild to moderate chronic venous insufficiency with an impact on quality of life. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;53(3):504-508.
3. David CV, Chira S, Eells SJ, et al. Diagnostic accuracy in patients admitted to hospitals with cellulitis. Dermatol Online J. 2011;17(3):1.
4. Bailey E, Kroshinsky D. Cellulitis: diagnosis and management. Dermatol Ther. 2011; 24(2):229-239.
5. Farage MA, Miller KW, Berardesca E, et al. Clinical implications of aging skin: cutaneous disorders in the elderly. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2009;10(2):73-86.
6. Weaver J, Billings SD. Initial presentation of stasis dermatitis mimicking solitary lesions: a previously unrecognized clinical scenario. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2009;61(6):1028-1032.
7. O'Meara S, Cullum N, Nelson EA, et al. Compression for venous leg ulcers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(11):CD000265.
8. Patel T, Yosipovitch G. Therapy of pruritus. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2010;11(10):1673-1682.
9. O'Meara S, Al-Kurdi D, Ologun Y, et al. Antibiotics and antiseptics for venous leg ulcers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(1):CD003557.
10. Weiss SC, Nguyen J, Chon S, et al. A randomized controlled clinical trial assessing the effect of betamethasone valerate 0.12% foam on the short-term treatment of stasis dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 2005;4(3):339-345.
11. Jull A, Arroll B, Paraq V, et al. Pentoxifylline for treating venous leg ulcers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007;(3):CD001733.
12. Layton AM, Ibbotson SH, Davies JA, et al. Randomised trial of oral aspirin for chronic venous leg ulcers. Lancet. 1994;344(8916):164-165.
13. Gosnell AL, Nedorost ST. Stasis dermatitis as a complication of amlodipine therapy. J Drugs Dermatol. 2009;8(2):135-137.
14. Nelson EA, Bell-Syer SE, Cullum NA. Compression for preventing recurrence of venous ulcers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(4):CD002303.
Additional Reading
  • Collins L, Seraj S. Diagnosis and treatment of venous ulcers. Am Fam Physician. 2010;81(8):989-996.
  • Partsch H, Flour M, Smith PC; International Compression Club. Indications for compression therapy in venous and lymphatic disease consensus based on experimental data and scientific evidence. Under the auspices of the IUP. Int Angiol. 2008;27(3):193-219.
  • Sippel K, Mayer D, Ballmer B, et al. Evidence that venous hypertension causes stasis dermatitis. Phlebology. 2011;26(8):361-365.
See Also
  • Varicose Veins
  • Algorithm: Rash, Focal
  • I83.10 Varicose veins of unsp lower extremity with inflammation
  • I83.11 Varicose veins of right lower extremity with inflammation
  • I83.12 Varicose veins of left lower extremity with inflammation
Clinical Pearls
  • Treatment of edema associated with stasis dermatitis via elevation and/or compression stockings is essential for optimal results.
  • Pentoxifylline 1,200 mg daily and aspirin 300 mg daily improve venous ulcer healing.
  • No difference in healing rate of venous stasis ulcers by use of hydrocolloid dressing versus simple nonadherent dressing when used beneath compression. Decision about the dressing should be based on local cost and patient or physician's preferences (7)[A].
  • Mild topical corticosteroids reduce inflammation and itching; however, these may potentiate infection; high-potency topical corticosteroids should be avoided due to increased risk of atrophy and ulceration.