A foot ulcer, or lower extremity ulcer, is an open wound on the foot, heel or even between the toes. It isn't always a painful condition -- sometimes the person with the ulcer only feels a burning, itching or tight sensation where the ulcer is occurring. Without treatment, however, an ulcer on the foot can lead to abscesses and gangrene. Some have even led to amputation.


There are three types of foot ulcers: venous stasis ulcers, which are the most common type, arterial and neurotrophic ulcers, which are caused by diabetes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 90 percent of ulcers are venous stasis. Arterial are typically the most painful.


Each type of ulcer looks a bit different. Venous stasis ulcers are usually found around the ankle area, can appear red, and have an asymmetrical shape. They also may drain out fluid. The skin around the ulcer may feel hot, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Arterial ulcers occur on the foot, even on the toes, and may not bleed. Neurotrophic ulcers occur on the bottom of the feet, and may appear pink or even black, depending on the condition of the ulcer. Amazingly, some people with neurotrophic ulcers may not even realize they have one, which makes them even more dangerous, because they can often become very infected before any treatment begins.


There are many causes of foot ulcers. Diabetes is a major culprit behind the development of foot ulcers. Patients with bad circulation in the lower part of their body are also at a risk. There are other diseases that can cause ulcers as well, including renal failure and inflammatory diseases. Genetics also plays a part in foot ulcers. Dr. Jefferey Johnson, MD, said in a October 31, 2005 interview that about 15 percent of people with diabetes will, at some point, develop a foot ulcer.


A foot ulcer is hard to heal. Antibiotics may be given to the patient if there is an infection, which, oftentimes there is. The skin on and around the ulcer may be removed in a process called "debridement." In some extreme cases, the foot or toe may have to be amputated, and the patient fitted with a prosthesis. It is very important to follow all physician's orders in the treatment of a foot ulcer, in order for it to heal quickly and fully, with no following infections.


The prevention of foot ulcers involves losing weight, if one is at a risk for diabetes. Smoking also increases the risk of diabetes, and, in turn, the risk of foot ulcers, so quitting is a preventive measure, as well. If diabetes has already been diagnosed, making sure foot hygiene is well maintained is important, as well as wearing proper shoes with the right support.